Stop making sense: why it’s time to get emotional about climate change

The science has been settled to the highest degree, so now the key to progress is understanding our psychological reactions

 Rebecca Huntley, an Australian social researcher and expert on social trends, at home in Sydney. Her new book is How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

It took me much longer than it should have to realise that educating people about climate change science was not enough. Due perhaps to my personality type (highly rational, don’t talk to me about horoscopes, please) and my background (the well-educated daughter of a high school teacher and an academic), I have grown up accepting the idea that facts persuade and emotions detract from a good argument.

Then again, I’m a social scientist. I study people. I deal mostly in feelings, not facts. A joke I like to tell about myself during speeches is that I’m an expert in the opinions of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Over the 15 years I’ve been a social researcher, I’ve watched with concern the increasing effects of climate change, and also watched as significant chunks of the electorate voted for political parties with terrible climate change policies.

There is clearly a disconnect between what people say they are worried about and want action on and who, when given the chance, they pick to lead their country.

The science behind climate change has been proven correct to the highest degree of certainty the scientific method allows. But climate change is more than just the science. It’s a social phenomenon. And the social dimensions of climate change can make the science look simple – the laws of physics are orderly and neat but people are messy.

 A climate protest painted on a bridge over the Avon River in the Gippsland town of Stratford in Victoria. Photograph: Andrew Kelly/Reuters Pinterest 

When social researchers like me try to analyse how a person responds to climate change messages the way they do, we’re measuring much, much more than just their comprehension (or not) of the climate science. We’re analysing the way they see the world, their politics, values, cultural identity, even their gender identity. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say we’re measuring their psyche, their innermost self.

It follows that to help resolve, even to some degree, the conflict and disagreement about climate change in the community, we need to understand those different belief systems and the emotional responses and social forces that shape them. And take them into account when we communicate about climate change and what should be done.

This is even more important given how politicised climate change has become, especially in countries like the US and Australia. US research from has shown that reactions to climate change as a topic were becoming increasingly polarised along partisan lines around the late 1990s. He argues that the climate change views of Democrats and Republicans were not significantly different until the Kyoto protocol negotiations of 1997, when policymakers started to explore possible solutions to global warming.

Rebecca Huntley
 ‘Think about where you get your information, how reliable it is and whether you only read the things that agree with what you want to think rather than the actual truth.’ Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian Pinterest

In an article for the academic journal Risk Analysis, the head of Yale’s program on climate change communications, Tony Leiserowitz, showed that in 2003, when respondents were asked in surveys for their first reaction to the phrase “global warming”, only 7% reacted with words like “hoax” or “scam”. By 2010 that had risen to 23%. There was a parallel trend in the UK: between 2003 and 2008, the belief that claims about climate change had been exaggerated almost doubled from 15% to 29%.

The huge success and positive impact of Al Gore’s first documentary, 2006’s An Inconvenient Truth, had the less-than-positive side-effect of strongly associating the issue with the progressive side of politics. Today, as Leiserowitz comments, climate change scepticism and even denial in the US have become part of a cluster of beliefs (along with anti-abortion and anti-immigration) that are obvious markers of Republican allegiance.

In my own social research with Australian voters, I see this politicisation all the time. Nowadays, I don’t even have to ask how someone voted in the last election to hazard a guess about their views on climate change. Sometimes all it takes is for me to ask them how they feel about the role of government (Are you taxed too much? Do you feel there is too much regulation?) and what media they trust the most (blogs and social media or public broadcasters?).

The degree of polarisation in places like Australia and the US is not universal. The esteemed Pew Research Center found in 2015 that in “Canada, Germany and the United Kingdom, followers of conservative parties are much less likely than followers of liberal or green parties to believe they will be harmed by climate change”. But in many other countries there are much less pronounced political differences, and much less public and political interest in contesting the science.

For environmental activists in these less-polarised countries – often countries already feeling serious impacts from climate change but emitting negligible amounts of CO2 –the endless debate about the truth of the climate science in the big western countries is gobsmacking. Activists have expressed their frustration and disbelief, and it’s contributed not a little to their despair about progress at an international level.

 Thousands of school students from across Sydney attend the global Climate Strike rally at Town Hall in March last year. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP Pinterest


So when it comes to talking to people about climate change, it helps enormously to think about it not just as a scientific question but as a social and political one. But understanding how people’s already existing (and often entrenched) political allegiances influence their response to climate change is only part of the picture. Understanding their emotional reactions is even more important, and that leads us from politics towards psychology.

Viewing the climate change issue through a psychological lens yields endless important insights into why we are where we are. Have a look at the must-watch 2018 Ted Talk by the meteorologist J Marshall Shepherd, on three kinds of bias that shape your worldview. As a self-proclaimed weather geek, he often gets asked if he believes in climate change. He finds the question odd because science isn’t about belief. It’s about proof that things are real or not. He is agog at the chasm between what scientists know to be true and what surveys have shown the US public believes about issues like vaccinations, evolution and, of course, climate change.

This has led the natural scientist to start thinking about psychology, namely what biases shape our perceptions of the world around us. He picks three big ones. The first, and probably the most obvious, is confirmation bias, namely that we zero in on evidence that supports what we already believe. Confirmation bias is even more pronounced in a world where we can use our social media to filter out information we don’t want to absorb and where we follow influencers who reinforce our existing beliefs.

 J Marshall Shepherd on stage. Photograph: Ted Pinterest

The second bias is called Dunning-Kruger, which describes our human tendency to think we know more than we do as well as to underestimate what we don’t know. Again, I see this happen in focus groups all the time, when participants with no scientific credentials or training pick apart the science of climate change.

The third and final bias is cognitive dissonance. When people encounter actions or ideas they cannot reconcile psychologically with their own beliefs, they experience discomfort. They then try to resolve their discomfort by arguing away the new evidence.

Given that climate change is such a discomforting topic, I see this cognitive dissonance all the time in focus groups, where people try to find reasons other than climate change for the events happening around them, even when faced with a strong scientific explanation. They pick it apart because of Dunning-Kruger and then, because of confirmation bias, try to find a blog that states something other than what the scientific evidence shows.

J Marshall Shepherd argues that we need to close the gap between public perception and scientific fact, to create a better future and preserve life as we know it. He challenges us to take an inventory of our biases and of the beliefs we use to prop them up. Think about where you get your information, how reliable it is and whether you only read the things that agree with what you want to think rather than the actual truth. Then share what you’ve learned – about yourself and about the world – with other people.

I’m not saying facts don’t matter or the scientific method should be watered down or we should communicate without facts. What I am saying is that now the climate science has been proven to be true to the highest degree possible, we have to stop being reasonable and start being emotional.

More science isn’t the solution. People are the solution.



NASA JPL/Wickipedia

The coronavirus pandemic may have produced a tipping point in the transition off fossil fuels, with two colossal fossils declaring in the last two weeks that they will downgrade the value of their own assets by as much as US$39.5 billion.

“This week, Royal Dutch Shell said it would slash the value of its oil and gas assets by up to $22 billion amid a crash in oil prices,” InsideClimate News reports. “The announcement came two weeks after a similar declaration by BP, saying it would reduce the value of its assets by up to $17.5 billion. Both companies said the accounting moves were a response not only to the coronavirus-driven recession, but also to global efforts to tackle climate change.”

Shell’s announcement came after the British-Dutch fossil “cut its forecast for energy prices into 2023 on expectations that sales will only recover slowly after the pandemic, adding to the company’s already bleak longer-term outlook for fossil fuel demand,” Reuters writes. The stranded assets identified in the Shell announcement include liquefied natural gas operations in Australia, among them the world’s biggest floating LNG facility, and shale oil and gas production facilities in Brazil and the United States.

“I think we may look back on this as the turning point, the moment the industry finally started to say that real assets with real dollar figures associated with them are likely to be ‘stranded’ in a decarbonizing world,” Andrew Logan, Ceres senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, told InsideClimate. “This is a huge turnaround from the industry’s previous stance, which had been that no existing assets were likely to be stranded, that there may be risks in the future, but not in the here and now. That acknowledgment, that the risk is real and it’s here in the present, is a really big deal.”

ICN notes that a “growing list of major investors and advocacy groups have been pressing oil companies to better disclose and confront the risk that some of their fossil fuel investments may never be developed or may lose substantial value as the world pivots towards a cleaner energy system in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the industry has resisted. ExxonMobil, for example, maintains that its oil and gas reserves face little risk of being stranded.”

But more reasoned assessments are gaining traction. InsideClimate points to industry research and consulting firm Rystad Energy “reducing its assessment of the world’s recoverable oil resources in light of the pandemic,” since “the volume of recoverable oil depends not only on what is in the ground but also on the economics of extracting it.” Meanwhile, consultants at Wood Mackenzie “said the price crash of recent months has wiped away $1.6 trillion in its valuation of oil and gas producers, and that the impairments are sending an important signal.”

“It’s about fundamental change hitting the entire oil and gas sector. Within this writedown, Shell is giving us a message about stranded assets, just like BP did a few weeks ago,” wrote WoodMac Vice President of Corporate Analysis Luke Parker. “Just a few years ago, few within the oil and gas industry would even countenance ideas of climate risk, peak demand, stranded assets, liquidation business models, and so on. Today, companies are building strategies around these ideas.”

Andrew Grant, head of oil, gas and mining at the Carbon Tracker Initiative, told ICN the BP and Shell announcements are a mix of corporate spin and real change. “Perhaps it’s partly talking a good game, or making lemonade when life hands you lemons: Faced with a low oil price, they’re at least trying to get some good PR out of it,” he said. “But I think it also reflects the direction of travel.”

While the Shell announcement grabbed the most recent headlines, BP has continued to make news in the days since its asset downgrade. Earlier this week, BP said it would sell off its global petrochemicals division for $5.5 billion—a major shift in strategy, at a time when fossil companies are looking to plastics and petrochemicals as a source of future demand for their raw products. Investors with collective responsibility for £1.8 trillion in assets followed the original BP announcement by stepping up their campaign to persuade fossils to acknowledge climate risk in their accounting. And a Reuters report pointed to the specific business risks BP faces with its holdings in the Canadian tar sands/oil sands.


Shifting to electric vehicles requires economic incentives, just ask Norway

“The incentives over the years have been important in changing consumers’ habits to make (Electric Vehicles) a very natural option,” says Norway’s ambassador to Canada, Anne Kari Hansen Ovind. Photo credit: Royal Norwegian Embassy in Ottawa

Anne Kari Hansen Ovind’s explanation of Norway’s successful and much-publicized conversion to zero-emission vehicles is succinct: “Incentives work.”

All new cars will be zero-emission vehicles by 2025, Norway’s ambassador to Canada predicted during an interview with Canada’s National Observer.

“I am an economist. So, I like to talk about economic incentives.”

Norway, which has been described as the “poster child of the EV revolution,” has many incentives to make it more attractive to buy zero-emission vehicles, mostly those powered by electricity.

There are rebate programs to make the cars more affordable for consumers; the right to drive in bus lanes; cheaper parking, the list is long.

“There’s a whole package of designs for making that an absolutely attractive choice,” Ovind said.

The government also makes the sales price of still-dominant conventional vehicles more expensive by slapping them with higher sales taxes.

The other part of Norway’s success story is charging stations.

According to the embassy, Norway has 2,400 charging stations. The ratio works out to about 44 stations for every 100,000 residents in this country of 5.4 million.

Canada’s ratio is much lower.

“As with any new technology, consumers need to feel confident that (electric vehicles) can meet their day-to-day needs,” Paula Vieira, director of transportation and alternative fuels for Natural Resources Canada.

On June 25 Canada had 5,781 charging stations, a ratio of approximately 15 charging stations per 100,000 in a country almost seven times the size of Norway.

When comparing the two countries, here’s something else to consider.

The success of zero-emission vehicles sales is typically measured by what’s called a penetration rate, the degree to which these vehicles eat into the sale of their conventional, gas- or diesel-powered competitors.

Norway’s Canadian embassy says electric and hybrid cars commanded 56 per cent of Norway’s market in 2019.

According to data Transport Canada obtained from IHS Markit Catalyst, zero-emission vehicles (battery-electric and hybrid vehicles) accounted for 3.8 per cent of total light-vehicle (electric cars) sales in Canada from Jan. 1 to March 31 of 2020.

To say the least, Canada’s sales numbers are more modest.

The federal government wants more Canadians to buy electric vehicles, but it’s a tough sell. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Can Canada learn from Norway’s success?

As Canada struggles to find ways to expand the market for zero-emission vehicles, looking to countries such as Norway as a benchmark makes sense. Indeed, Canada may already be taking notes.

In an emailed correspondence, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada explained that “Canada and Norway mutually exchange information on progress and lessons learned on a regular basis.”

The discussions occur at organizations to which both countries belong: the International Energy’s Agency’s Energy Technology Systems Analysis Program; the Electric Vehicles Initiative; and an Alliance that focuses on “accelerating the adoption of zero-emission vehicles.”

Given this level of exchange, countries like Norway could provide a blueprint for Canada as it attempts to reach its ultimate sales target: zero-emission vehicles comprising 100 per cent of all new sales by 2040.

And as Canada struggles to meet its medium- and long-term targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector must be part of the overall plan.

Why transportation?

According to the federal government’s most recent assessment of greenhouse gas emissions, the transportation sector accounted for 25 per cent of emissions, a close second to the oil and gas sector’s 26 per cent.

Those figures don’t sit well with the federal government’s climate goals. Part of the federal government plan is to lead by example through the greening of its fleet of so-called administrative vehicles used by RCMP officers, cabinet ministers and federal inspectors.

Natural Resources Canada is assessing 3,000 vehicles in 10 departments with the goal of changing to more climate-friendly natural gas, hydrogen or electrification.

The whole effort got off to a rough start in 2016. A briefing note to then-natural resources minister Jim Carr, obtained through an access-to-information request, indicated problems, beginning with a “limited number of (electric vehicles) … that would meet ministerial requirements.”

Those problems are old news, said Paula Vieira, director of transportation and alternative fuels for Natural Resources Canada during an interview with National Observer.

“In fact, the government is looking to accelerate and increase (its) commitment.”

But even if the government becomes a role model, it must still tackle what Vieira concedes is one of the largest hurdles to achieving Norway’s success: cost.

Sticker shock and consumer anxiety

As a lead department responsible for educating consumers about the benefits of shifting to zero-emission vehicles such as electric cars, Natural Resources Canada has had a tough job.

“As with any new technology, consumers need to feel confident that (electric vehicles) can meet their day-to-day needs,” Vieira said.

She didn’t make that assessment during the interview with Canada’s National Observer, but back in 2017, testifying before the Senate transportation committee.

“(Consumers) need to have access to information that can help them understand the various (electric vehicle) technologies and help them to inform their purchasing decisions. Once they do decide that their next vehicle will be an (electric vehicle), the purchasing and driving experience has to be similar to what they are used to in conventional vehicles.”

Paula Vieira, director of transportation and alternative fuels for Natural Resources Canada, calls the need for more electric vehicle charging stations the “biggest hurdle.” Photo credit: Natural Resources Canada 

Fast-forward to 2020. For Vieira, it’s still a tough sell.

“Consumers will tell you it’s got to be price parity … we expect price parity will happen mid-2020. That’s certainly what industry is predicting. That battery technology will become less expensive and vehicles will become less expensive to produce,” she said.

Price concerns are also echoed in a survey published by the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics. The majority of respondents expressed unwillingness to buy an electric vehicle and had concerns about batteries.

Still, there are signs some skepticism might be waning.

In 2019, Clean Energy Canada commissioned a poll on attitudes toward zero-emission vehicles. A majority of respondents — 64 per cent — said that “if it were up to them, electric cars would become the majority of vehicles that consumers drive at some point in the future.”

Clean Energy Canada’s policy director, Sarah Petrevan, says the results were encouraging.

“There was a lot of favourability around rebates and purchase incentives and infrastructure (such as charging stations).”

Consumers also seem to be warming to rebate programs.

On May 1, 2019, Transport Canada implemented the Incentives for the Zero-emissions Vehicles Program.

“The incentive program has already had a positive impact on Canadian zero-emission vehicle sales,” department spokeswoman Frédérica Dupuis said in an emailed response to National Observer.

“As of May 31, 2020, more than 46,000 Canadians and Canadian businesses have benefited from (zero-emission vehicle) incentives. As of this date, over $185 million has been processed for incentive claims.”

Still, there are demands for even more federal generosity.

In its pre-pandemic recommendations for a 2020 federal budget that has now been indefinitely postponed, Electric Mobility Canada called on the federal government to “increase the current incentive program.”

For her part, Petrevan would like to see Ottawa expand its subsidies to cover a broader range of consumers, including those shopping for second-hand vehicles and lower-income groups.

Canada needs more programs to encourage electric vehicle use, says Clean Energy Canada’s policy director, Sarah Petrevan 

You can look at incentives on a sliding scale based on income and rebates to lower-income Canadians. “There’s lots of different policies. Norway did a great job.”

In addition to subsidies, another obstacle is building more charging stations in order to align Canada’s numbers more closely with Norway’s per capita numbers.

Expanding the network

Providing enough charging stations has also been a priority for Norway. In an emailed response, embassy spokesman Erik Furu said, “The Norwegian government wants the development of charging infrastructure to be market-based as fast as possible.”

In its pre-budget brief, Electric Mobility Canada demanded “up to 5,000 additional public stations … over three to four years.”

Natural Resources Canada’s Paula Vieira calls the need for more charging stations “the biggest hurdle.”

Norway’s deliberation about charging stations and other obstacles involved consumers, businesses, all levels of government and politicians of all political persuasions. Achieving consensus over a 20-year period allowed the country to make steady progress.

“As long as you are clear … which direction you’re going, businesses … will integrate sustainable development goals as part of their strategic thinking,” Ovind said.

“The incentives over the years have been important in changing consumers’ habits to make it a very natural option.”

So there are a few lessons Canada can learn from Norway.

Incentives work. In Canada, zero-emission vehicles are more popular in jurisdictions — B.C. and Quebec — that have their own rebate programs, in addition to the federal initiative. Incentives must include more jurisdictions and be beefed up at the federal level.

Political consensus is key. All levels of government and political parties from all stripes must be on the same page. Canada’s climate-change discourse is fractured.

Industry must step up. When GM announced that it was closing its Oshawa plant to focus on electric cars, there was no thought about keeping the production in Canada. In a country that has set hard sales targets, GM’s decision sends the wrong message.

Norway got it right. Can Canada?



Three Months after Attack, Tiny House Warriors Complain of RCMP Inaction

Protest faces new challenges as First Nations leaders urge them to shut down protest camp

The RCMP is harassing the Tiny House Warriors while failing to press ahead with an investigation of an attack on their camp, says Kanahus Manuel. Photo via Facebook.

A group fighting a Trans Mountain pipeline work camp near Blue River, B.C. say they’ve faced escalating racism since a night attack on their encampment April 19.

Kanahus Manuel, one of the Tiny House Warriors in the camp about 175 kilometres northeast of Kamloops, said she’s convinced “there was not even any attempt by the RCMP to look for these guys.”

The group says three men and a woman drove two all-terrain vehicles into the encampment in mid-April, knocked down signs, tore down red dresses used in a memorial to missing and murdered and Indigenous women, stole a truck and rammed it into a house and punched and kicked an Indigenous man.

Parts of the attack were captured on video, including images of two of the men.

Amnesty International responded to the incident with a letter to Premier John Horgan and the RCMP calling for an investigation and protection for the camp.

The Tyee reached out to the RCMP’s Clearwater department to request an interview but they declined.

Cpl. Jesse O’Donaghey said in an email that the criminal investigation is still underway.

“Tip information has been received by our investigators who have been working diligently to follow up on that information in an effort to advance the still ongoing investigation,” he said. “Any further updates will be provided as they become available.”

Manuel, whose people are Secwepemc and Ktunaxa, said she hasn’t heard from the police since giving her statement in April.

Joe Killoran, a criminal defence attorney in Kamloops representing Manuel in this case, says he wants justice for the group but is uncertain the RCMP will arrest the perpetrators.

“In my mind, they’re clearly on the side of the people who come to harass the Tiny House Warriors,” he said.

Officers who visited the camp after the attack weren’t even going to take fingerprints, Manuel said, but she told them to take a beer can left behind by one of the assailants.

“But I don’t even know if they ran the fingerprints,” she said.

Manuel adds that when she gave her statement, she felt the officer’s questioning was racist, and her lawyer eventually ended the interview.

“The questions they asked put me as a suspect instead of a victim,” she said.

“There’s a way to talk to witnesses and victims, and there’s usually quite a difference,” said Killoran. “You’re trying to make victims comfortable; you’re trying to validate victims’ experiences, and the way the officer spoke to Kanahus, he was trying to catch her.”

Manuel said the group, who live in a cluster of five tiny houses on the edge of Blue River, have faced increasing racist harassment.

Killoran said those opposed to the protest are ramping up tensions. “My clients are trying to live on their ancestral homeland and these people are coming to try to provoke fights,” said Killoran.

New challenge to camp

The Tiny House Warriors faced a new challenge Thursday as chiefs from the Simpcw and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nations called on them to shut down their protest camp.

Chief Shelly Loring of the Simpcw Nation and Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc released a statement condemning the “occupation and often disrespectful conduct of the Tiny House Warriors” and their “aggressive actions.”

They said the First Nations had given “their free, prior and informed consent to Trans Mountain” to build on their territories.

Manuel told the CBC she rejects the chiefs’ authority, saying its limited to their reserves.

Manuel also alleged that some businesses in the area are refusing to serve her and other people opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

“We’re all being targeted just for being Indigenous land defenders,” she said. “This hate has encouraged other hate that we’re seeing right now.”

Manuel says she’s still dealing with shock from the April incident.

“I’m still dealing with the aftermath of an attacker coming to my home like that,” she said. “Since then, we’ve just had to have a lot more people here on site just for safety reasons.”

Since the incident, RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group, a unit created to protect development projects, has been coming to Manuel’s home daily, she said. “They come here twice a day to harass us.”

Manuel posted some videos on her Twitter account showing the officers parked outside of her home and rolling their windows up as someone approaches them.

Killoran said the RCMP is targeting the group. “They’re just overpolicing her and they don’t seemingly police everybody else,” he said.

The Tiny House Warriors are a group of Indigenous pipeline opponents whose tactics include building tiny homes on the pipeline route.

“Symptoms of colonization disappear once we have access to our territory and the wealth of our lands,” Manuel said. “All we need is our land and we’re able to heal ourselves, we’re able to organize within ourselves in our own autonomous ways.”

That’s already happening in the Tiny House Warrior camp, she said.

“We’re off the grid here and we’re able to sustain ourselves here on a small scale and we want to show native people that we can do this anywhere we want on our land,” she said. “That’s why they fear us, because we’re going to shift the way people think.”

“With the level of racism that’s being exposed throughout the world, it’s also encouraging hate as well, I believe, and I feel like it’s spilling out onto our camp,” she said.

Killoran asked the RCMP in an email whether officers would do something about the “escalating level of hostility directed towards my clients by angry visitors,” calling the April incident a “white supremacist attack.”

The RCMP responded by saying they didn’t believe the men in the video would be considered white supremacists.

“The RCMP has traditionally been the enforcer of white supremacy in Canada and I guess in that context, I’m not surprised he finds it difficult to recognize,” said Killoran.  [Tyee]


Missy Johnson  is an intern with The Tyee as a part of the Journalists for Human Rights Emerging Indigenous Reporter program. She is a recent graduate of the Langara College journalism program.

UVic’s oily governing boards lay bare fossil fuel’s deep entrenchment in Canadian society

In January, the University of British Columbia became the largest Canadian university to divest from fossil fuel companies. Why can’t University of Victoria? Photo credit: University of Victoria

The death and disruption wrought by COVID-19 is calamitous. The bad news is that climate change will be worse. It is easy to forget that 2020 began with Australia burning in a brutal wildfire season. Like this pandemic, Australia’s disaster was predicted years in advance by ecological science. As we slowly emerge from the coronavirus crisis, it is worth asking: Why has action on climate change been glacial, while actual glaciers are rapidly melting?

We are University of Victoria (UVic) researchers with the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP) — a partnership of university and community-based researchers investigating the power and influence of the oil, gas and coal industries in Western Canada (UVic is the academic home for the CMP). One of the CMP’s main findings is that the extensive power of the fossil fuel industry is the primary obstruction to much-needed climate action. From funding outright denial to persistently lobbying decision-makers, the industry has been successful at stalling substantive climate policies.

In addition to these direct forms of obstruction, the fossil fuel industry also influences decision-making more informally through its reach into various organizations of civil society, from think tanks and industry associations to universities. This reach is often accomplished through interlocking directorates — the practice where members of a corporate board of directors serve on the boards of multiple other organizations. Industry executives and directors who also sit on the governance boards of civil society organizations and public institutions, such as universities, create an influence network whose many threads of communication and collaboration enable the fossil fuel industry to advance its profit-driven concerns disguised as being in the “public interest.”

University of British Columbia divests

Despite this significant industry obstruction, climate action still remains possible, thanks to the tireless efforts of popular movements. In January, the University of British Columbia (UBC) became the largest Canadian university to divest from fossil fuel companies. When institutions of record such as UBC divest for moral and financial reasons, that helps to challenge the social licence of oil, gas and coal companies, creating more space for politicians to pass the ambitious transition legislation — such as a Green New Deal — required to avoid 1.5 C warming.

When UBC divested, it joined Université Laval, Université du Québec à Montréal, and Concordia University as Canadian leaders. Most recently, the University of Guelph has announced a divestment plan. Despite these successes, most Canadian universities lag behind their counterparts in other regions. For example, half of U.K. universities have divested. The regions with the highest concentration of divestment decisions — such as the U.K., California, and New York state — are not major fossil fuel producers. Canada, on the other hand, is the world’s fourth-largest producer. Here the industry has the capacity and incentive to seek seats on decision-making tables across the country, ensuring that its interests are seen as Canada’s interests. This influence peddling also extends to universities.

“In January, UBC became the largest Canadian university to divest from fossil fuel companies, which prompted a question. Why not the University of Victoria?”

Oil and gas go to class

In 2016, Dalhousie’s then dean of science, Chris Moore, raised concerns when a senior executive at Shell, a major donor to Dalhousie, told him the company was “monitoring the university divestment movement closely and would look unfavourably on any university that divested in regard to future investment.” Dalhousie continues to block divestment despite a vibrant student campaign.

Likewise, a 2017 report from the Canadian Association of University Teachers found that oil company interference compromised academic integrity at the University of Calgary. The controversy centred on Enbridge’s push to remove the director of the university’s Enbridge Centre for Corporate Sustainability for publicly challenging the company. At the time, then University of Calgary president Elizabeth Cannon held a highly remunerated position on Enbridge’s board. She now sits on the board of Canadian Natural Resources, one of the largest oilsands’ producers. The divestment movement at U of C never stood a chance.

Given this history of industry obstruction, especially in fossil-fuel producing provinces, the UBC decision is especially impressive (B.C. is Canada’s second-largest fracked gas producer, behind Alberta).

This victory at UBC prompted a question for us at the University of Victoria: Why not here, when the divestment movements at UVic and UBC have been operating for the same time period, using similar tactics?

Are corporate connections influencing the University of Victoria’s position?

Turning the spotlight inwards

To answer this question, we turned the Corporate Mapping Project inwards, asking if industry influence might be informing UVic’s opposition despite deep support for divestment from both students and faculty. Likewise, we wanted to see if an absence of industry obstruction was a factor in the UBC success story. We looked particularly at the UVic and UBC governing boards, since these are the bodies that control the endowment funds targeted by divestment campaigners ($1.7 billion for UBC and $470 million for UVic).

We looked to see if these board members had links to fossil fuel companies and/or major Canadian banks. Why banks? Because they are major investors in the Canadian oilpatch, with a vested interest in seeing fossil fuel production grow.

The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), for example, is the second-largest investor in Canada’s fossil fuel sector and its number one lender. Industry-affiliated board members do not, as a rule, actively promote the firms to which they are tied. Rather, they bring to the table a worldview, shaped by their own commitment to the fossil fuel industry, that presents a cultural barrier to serious climate action.

We found no significant linkages to banks or fossil fuel companies on UBC’s board, with most members involved in law, real estate, hospitality, non-profit or tech.

The chair of UBC’s board, Michael Korenberg (who resigned after liking racist, far-right comments on Twitter), did serve on the board of a coal exporting company up until 2017. He didn’t mention this affiliation on his UBC or LinkedIn pages. He was also formerly on the board of HSBC Canada (a major bank), whose parent company recently announced it would stop financing new coal and oilsands developments. Maybe this decision is why Korenberg kept his former connection to coal “in the ground.” From all accounts, Korenberg was a strong supporter of UBC’s divestment push, which was led by brilliant student campaigners with the organization UBCC350.

A spill of influence on the Left Coast

The scene is different across the Salish Sea. Unlike UBC, UVic has two governing boards, one for the broader university and one specifically charged with overseeing the endowment fund. The main board is responsible for appointing the endowment board, and both are significantly connected to fossil fuels and finance.

For example, the chair of the endowment board, Mary Garden, is also a director for Horizon North Logistics, which builds modular camps for oil and gas production. These camps, often referred to as “man camps,” have been implicated in gendered colonial violence and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women. Horizon North built the camps for Coastal GasLink on sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory, where in February, the RCMP conducted a militarized five-day siege that sparked solidarity actions across the country.

Likewise, Horizon North Logistics also built the camps at the Kearl Lake oilsands facility in northern Alberta that has been linked to a large COVID-19 outbreak. Because the Alberta government has not restricted fly-in fly-out workers, the outbreak has already been linked to the deaths of two Dene elders in Saskatchewan, along with cases in B.C., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador.

Garden’s position as chair of the endowment board is a potential obstruction to divestment at UVic, since she represents a company with profits tied to the fossil fuel industry. The connections do not end there. Also on the endowment board (which includes eight members from outside UVic) sits Lisa Dempsey, who is a VP and investment counsellor for RBC, and Doug Stadelman, who until 2018 was an RBC VP for Canadian equities. Recall that RBC is the world’s second-largest investor in Canada’s fossil fuel sector.

There are fossil fuel linkages on UVic’s main board of governors as well. Daphne Corbett was a director with Pulse Seismic until 2018, a company with a mission to provide “seismic data to the western Canadian energy sector.” And Beverly Van Ruyven is the former chair of the Western Energy Institute, “a trade association serving the electric and natural gas industries throughout the Western United States and Canada.”

We in the divestment movement at UVic — a university that claims sustainability and reconciliation leadership — have been swimming against a tide of fracked gas and bitumen. Petitions, sit-ins and successful votes by faculty and students have gone nowhere. Why? Perhaps it is due to the influence the industry and their financiers wield on UVic’s governing boards. This influence might also help explain why UVic remains committed to investing in fossil fuel companies, even while those investments are losing millions of dollars.

UVic losing millions

UVic lost $4 million on its Canadian fossil fuel investments between March 2018 and March 2019. Even before COVID-19, UVic’s fossil energy investments were delivering a -17 per cent rate of return (RoR). In contrast, the Toronto Stock Exchange’s fossil free index had a +7.9 per cent RoR that same year. The fossil energy sector was the worst-performing segment of the stock market in 2018-19. No longer can anyone credibly claim that divestment is financially imprudent. The reverse may now be true.

Recently, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund — one of the world’s largest investors — announced that it would no longer invest in Suncor, Imperial Oil, Canadian Natural Resources and Cenovus due to their high greenhouse gas emissions. UVic is invested in three of these companies. Perhaps UVic is staying the course due to the material and ideological interests of those sitting on its boards.

External members of Canadian university governing boards are mostly appointed by provincial governments. Both the UBC and UVic external board members we examined were appointed by B.C.’s previous Liberal government. We don’t know why the UBC board is largely free of fossil fuel connections. But this difference puts UBC at a distinct advantage in managing the moral and financial risks of climate change.

The financial outlook for fossil fuels is even grimmer since COVID-19 hit. So far this year, UVic has lost another $9 million on its fossil energy investments. There will be a bounce once economic activity resumes, but financial analysts, such as CNBC’s Jim Cramer, were warning about a “death knell phase” for fossil fuel stocks — even before the pandemic drove a dagger through balance sheets, soaking them in red.

UVic’s oily board is the norm

UVic sits in member of Parliament Elizabeth May’s federal riding. Even here on the Left Coast, the fossil fuel industry and its financiers sit around decision-making tables. This is a major financial and ecological risk because industry interests are at odds with the rapid energy transition required amid the climate crisis. The industry influence alive at UVic is replicated across the country.

Consider the Canada Pension Plan, which has billions invested in fossil energy, despite the clear headwinds facing the industry. Why? Perhaps it is because the board that governs the CPP is deeply entangled with the fossil fuel industry.

It is important to scrutinize those who oversee our collective wealth, examining how their interests and ideologies hamper or enable energy transition — at universities, in government and in the wider society. UBC’s successful divestment movement is a hopeful sign that if we can remove industry obstruction, then a livable future for all remains possible.


As Ford government marks two years, climate controversy has taken a backseat to COVID-19

Ontario Premier Doug Ford visits a partially-flooded area of Constance Bay, northwest of Ottawa, in April 2019. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

At the beginning of 2020, things weren’t looking great for Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

His approval ratings had plummeted amid a cascade of cuts and axed environmental policies. And in the 19 months since he took office, public priorities had shifted: A growing majority of voters were making climate action a priority, with analysts saying Ford didn’t have a chance at winning a second term unless he could present a meaningful climate plan.

But that was before COVID-19. Now, as Ford marks two years in office this week, the premier is at the helm of Ontario’s response to the pandemic. Despite several high-profile mistakes — an issue-plagued testing program and horrific conditions inside infected long-term care homes, for example — Ford has been widely praised for his handling of the crisis.

“People are looking at Doug Ford today under the lens of COVID, and they like what they see,” said Ihor Korbabicz, executive director of the polling firm Abacus Data.

“All these other issues, like environmental policy and the economy… they’re kind of falling in importance.”

The number of Ontarians who rate Ford positively doubled from 23 per cent in March to 46 per cent in May, an Abacus poll found. Meanwhile, the number of people who rate him negatively plunged from 61 per cent to 25 per cent, respectively.

But that lift appears to be driven mainly by COVID-19, Korbabicz said, which means the Ford government’s climate problem could resurface as the crisis subsides. The difference now, he added, is the Progressive Conservative government has accumulated a great deal of “potentially-fleeting” public trust.

“Unless you go out and squander that, there’s a lot you can do with that political capital,” Korbabicz said.

“If (Ford) developed some sort of comprehensive climate policy, there would be a lot more goodwill from folks across the political spectrum who may have been more skeptical.”

Whether Ford will utilize that opportunity, however, is a different question.

A spokesperson for Ford’s Environment Minister Jeff Yurek didn’t respond to questions from Canada’s National Observer about whether the government is rewriting its climate plan, which auditor general Bonnie Lysyk slammed for being “not based on sound evidence.” (In December, Yurek said it was an evolving draft.)

At the beginning of 2020, voters were increasingly turning away from the Ontario government’s lack of climate action. But now, as Doug Ford marks two years as premier this week, COVID-19 has changed everything. #onpoli

The PCs have embraced science in tackling COVID-19, an approach the government could easily apply to the climate crisis, said Sarah Buchanan, who manages the clean energy program at green non-profit Environmental Defence. But in other ways, the province’s recent moves to suspend environmental accountability measures amid the pandemic and roll back endangered species protections are “trickles of the same old Ford,” she added.

“I think what they need to remember is, particularly on climate, the old ways weren’t working,” she said. “They were getting a ton of pushback and people were angry… That’s not going to go away.”

Jeff Yurek
Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek shakes hands with Ontario Premier Doug Ford as Yurek is sworn in at Queen’s Park in June 2019. File photo by Cole Burston

Looking back on Ford’s first two years of ‘cut, cut, cut’

Ford campaigned on promises to axe Ontario’s existing climate policies and cut red tape in an effort to boost business.

And soon after taking office, Ford started slashing a wide variety of programs and weakening environmental legislation.

His government cancelled hundreds of clean energy projects, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. It wound down conservation programs and weakened endangered species protections.

Ford cancelled the previous government’s climate plan, replacing it with one that critics said would do little to reduce Ontario’s climate impact. (It’s made very little progress on the scant plan since publishing it, Buchanan said.)

The government also gutted the powers of Ontario’s environmental commissioner, a watchdog meant to hold the government accountable.

Late last year, Yurek cancelled a partially built wind farm in eastern Ontario. He was rebuked in May by Ontario Superior Court judges, who found his decision did not “meet the requirements of transparency, justification and intelligibility.”

As COVID-19 took hold in Ontario, Ford’s government suspended environmental oversight requirements, even as green advocates warned that doing so could undermine public health efforts. Higher levels of air pollution could cause higher rates of heart and lung disease that put the public at higher risk from respiratory viruses like COVID-19, critics said.

Reducing environmental protections was exactly what Ford promised on the campaign trail, said Andrea Olive, an associate professor of political science and geography at the University of Toronto Mississauga who studies conservation policy.

“There are lots of conservatives who care about the environment. Ford is definitely not that kind,” she said.

“I think the guy has been really frank about which values he supports… Everything he’s done has always really been around the economy and around jobs and around short-term economic benefit.”

But at least up until COVID-19, Ford’s actions on that file and others didn’t go over well with voters.

“The PCs got into power and they didn’t have a great first year,” Korbabicz said.

Ford’s popularity dropped. Last June, a year after his election, he was booed at the Toronto Raptors’ victory celebration in downtown Toronto. By December 2019, almost a quarter of those who voted PC had a negative impression of the premier, Abacus found.

Speaking to reporters last Friday, Ford acknowledged that the past two years had been turbulent at times.

“Anyone who says they don’t make mistakes or (face) bumps in the road would be lying to you,” he said.

“There’re always areas to grow into the position. I think our government has, as a whole.”

Protesters took over the intersection of Yonge and Dundas streets in downtown Toronto on June 10, 2019 as part of a demonstration to declare a climate crisis. Last year was a pivotal one for the climate movement, with supporting rising in most of Canada for climate action. File photo by Nick Iwanyshyn

‘We’re hoping for the best and expecting the worst’

What happens next will depend on dozens of factors, all of which are up in the air as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

Coronavirus has killed nearly 2,700 people in Ontario and has ground the province’s economy to a halt. Over a million jobs have been lost.

“My main focus right now … is COVID and the health and well-being of the people of Ontario,” Ford said Friday.

It’s hard to know where the public is with environmental priorities right now, said Olive. For one thing, Ontario is entering an unprecedented economic crisis — and when that happens, she added, voters are usually willing to sacrifice the environment for short-term financial gains. Though Canadians and Ontarians voted mainly for parties with climate plans in the federal election, that was during a moment where Canada’s economy was relatively strong.

“If you’re starving to death, you don’t really care about carbon emissions,” Olive said.

On the other hand, polling shows Ontarians do want their government to have a credible climate plan. Once the COVID-19 crisis subsides, Ford’s newfound halo “is going to wear off eventually,” Korbabicz said.

“(Environmental policy) matters a little less in the context of this crisis, but it does matter overall,” he added.

The climate movement has started to align with income inequality and racial justice issues that have come to the forefront amid COVID-19, which could be helpful for building political coalitions in future elections, said Jessica Green, an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto who studies climate governance.

But it’s too early to know how the chips will fall, she added. All that’s clear now, she added, is that the “smooth sailing of a liberal democratic order is over,” and Ontario will have to make tough choices in the days ahead.

“These are the conditions under which we are most likely to see radical change,” Green said. “Those changes could be good, or they could be bad.”

Environmental advocates are pushing for economic stimulus plans in Ontario and elsewhere to be used to boost climate measures and green technology. Yurek’s office didn’t respond to questions about whether the government’s eventual economic restart plan will include green recovery measures, but based on Ford’s track record and the actions of his peers, it doesn’t seem particularly likely.

Ford’s conservative contemporary, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, unveiled a recovery plan this week that leaned more on corporate tax cuts than clean technology. Likewise, in Quebec, Premier François Legault proposed rolling back environmental reforms as a means of jumpstarting the economy.

“We’re hoping for the best and expecting the worst,” Buchanan said.

“I think there’s been a permanent shift in how we see complex issues (like climate). But I think it depends on the government and how they act on that.”

U.S. strong-armed Canada into calamitous Meng strategy

Meng Wanzhou at conference in Milan, Italy on May 11 2018. Photo by Shutterstock / Stocked House Studio.

Canada’s calamitous approach to the crisis of the two Michaels began on November 30, 2018, the day we received an explosive U.S. extradition request for an emergency arrest of Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou. To be carried out the very next morning, when her flight from Hong Kong landed in Vancouver.

The warning signs should have flashed red across the federal government that this request would likely result in the seizure of Canadians in China.

Taking Canadians hostage worked for China the last time

More than anything, Canada needed to buy time.

Because taking two Canadian civilians hostage is exactly what China did the last time we detained a politically sensitive Chinese citizen on a U.S. warrant, in 2014.

Beijing’s political calculus is pretty clear. Canadian hostages for each Chinese national arrest.

They knew it. We knew it. The Americans knew it.

An emergency provisional warrant request endangering Canadians demanded, above all, immediate diplomacy with the Americans, rather than the timid and unquestioning processing it apparently received.

As outraged as all Canadians rightfully are at the conduct of President Xi Jinping’s government, our own leadership should object to being strong-armed by our supposedly closest ally in a way that jeopardized our citizens’ safety. Sermons about the rule of law unfairly distort the bigger picture that the public is entitled to know.

Canadians deserve to know that the Americans ginned up this foolhardy extradition application, possibly for political purposes.

“Our justice system, and the federal Crown have been hoodwinked into participating in a show trial and shakedown, against our own national interests and risking our citizens.” 

They should know the history of America’s noble, but ultimately failed strategy behind these indictments.

Over the last decade, beginning under president Barack Obama, the DOJ, State and Defense departments became impatient with passively monitoring an alarming increase of cyber-espionage, theft, and threat to critical infrastructure, particularly when conducted by proxies of nation-states such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.

As John Carlin, then assistant attorney general for U.S. national security, outlined in an address on cyber-forensics in 2015:

…(W)e face an onslaught of new threats and intrusions that raise national security concerns…

We have a host of tools available to us to combat online threats to the national security – criminal prosecution, sanctions, designations and diplomatic options – and we have the ability to pick the best tool or combination of tools to get the job done under the rule of law.

The United States is pursuing a comprehensive, whole-of-government strategy to confront malicious actors who seek to harm critical infrastructure, damage computer systems and steal trade secrets and sensitive information.

The criminal justice system is a central and effective component of this disruption effort. Indictments and prosecutions are a clear and powerful way, governed by the rule of law, to legitimize and prove allegations.

In May 2014, the DOJ launched a new strategy of publicly naming and charging state-sponsored individuals, even those beyond reach of U.S. arrest. Such was the infamous “Ugly Gorilla” case, in which the U.S. indicted five members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on charges of conspiracy, hacking, and espionage directed at six American companies in the U.S. nuclear power, metals and solar products industries.

Even though the alleged PLA hackers were beyond the reach of authorities, just laying the charge was considered incendiary. Paul M. Tiao, a former senior counsellor on cybersecurity to FBI director Robert Mueller, told Bloomberg at the time, “This will have significant diplomatic implications and will affect our relationship with the Chinese government.”

As Canada was about to discover, it most certainly would.

As dramatic as his PLA indictment was, Carlin wanted to inflict even greater pain on Beijing. The DOJ’s calculation at the time was that the Chinese government is a rational actor that will respond rationally to pressure. “The next case,” he told colleagues, “we need a body.”

That “next body” would come from Canada. In June 2014, the U.S. requested Canadian authorities to arrest and extradite Su Bin, a Chinese national living in Richmond, B.C., on cyber-espionage charges.

Su had spent almost six years guiding a PLA hacking operation that broke into multiple senior defense contractor sites and stole massive files of critical U.S. military plans representing tens of billions of dollars in development cost. His oversight enabled the PLA, among other things, to replicate Lockheed Martin fighter jets and Boeing military cargo planes.

China’s Xi’an Y-20 military cargo plane on airshow tarmac next to Boeing’s C-17. Xi’an Y-20 built from Boeing plans hacked under the direction of Richmond, BC resident Su Bin.

Su Bin was arrested in British Columbia on a US extradition request alleging multiple counts of conspiracy, espionage, and theft of military secrets.

But Beijing didn’t play the rational actor game as Carlin expected. They retaliated by abducting and imprisoning two Canadian missionaries, Julia and Kevin Garratt, for six months and two years, respectively.

In one move, China flipped Washington’s script, and turned the criminal trial into a hostage negotiation, and Washington blinked.

In terms of U.S. national security, criminal targets don’t come much higher value than Su Bin. Yet he consented to extradition and pled guilty to a single count, for which he was fined $10,000 and sentenced to a mere 18 additional months in custody.

By contrast, the typical plea bargain sentencing for espionage is in the range of 25 years to life imprisonment.

This was an unimaginably sweet deal for Su, but perhaps sweetest of all for Kevin Garratt, who was released shortly after the sentencing in 2016.

While informed sources suggest that Su’s deal took the Chinese government by surprise, there are likely only two explanations for such a weak plea agreement: either Su Bin became a cooperating witness, providing the U.S. government valuable Chinese military intelligence, or he was, in effect, traded for Garratt.

The only clue we have is that Kevin and Julia Garratt were both home, safe and sound, by 2016. If Su Bin was singing like a canary, they wouldn’t be.

At least during the Obama administration, it appears that Canada’s interests were observed and respected in extradition matters.

U.S. indictment strategy “a magnificent failure”

Yet on the international stage, the Su Bin plea agreement represented a humiliation for the DOJ and a vindication of China’s strategy of ruthless retribution.

The message could not have been clearer to everyone involved that the Chinese would see that hostage-taking works, and at all costs to avoid a replay of this scenario.

Yet just two years later, on November 30, the DOJ would try the extradition route again, Trump-style, this time seeking the arrest of the CFO of a major multinational telecom company, and the daughter of its founder, Ren Zhengfei.

Yet by now, Carlin’s indictment strategy was under fire for failing to deter Chinese theft of intellectual property. If anything, China’s brutal methods everywhere have only become stronger. Harvard law professor and US national security expert Jack Goldsmith declared it a “magnificent failure.”

A moment for emergency diplomatic intervention

So the request for yet another attempt at an unsuccessful strategy in Canada was a moment for emergency diplomatic intervention — for Canada to call on the U.S. State Department to suspend or postpone its request, in order for both countries to consider all options, given the dangers facing our citizens in China.

There’s no outward sign that anything of this nature happened. In any event, Canada appears to have meekly granted unquestioning deference to the United States. We walked straight into the buzzsaw.

While it’s easy to condemn China’s indefensible conduct both domestically and on the world stage, it’s vital that Canadians understand just how objectionable the U.S. conduct of this case has been, and how inadequately we met the moment.

Any extradition request that puts Canadians in harm’s way should be manifestly necessary, urgent, effective, and support a compelling national security interest.

Not one of those conditions applied here.

Unlike Su Bin, in criminal terms, Meng’s indictment is almost entirely gratuitous. While she may be technically guilty, the US has traditionally only charged corporate entities and not individuals for Iran sanctions violations. There is no defensible rationale supporting the endangerment of other civilians just to lay inconsequential charges.

The DOJ doesn’t need the Meng charges at all. They can easily proceed against their main target, Huawei, without her.

logo of Huawei, research and development centre, Dongguan, China, Guangdong province,
The DOJ does not require extradition of Huawei’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou to proceed with charges against the company. File photo from AP.

Extradition request misleading

Nor was there any urgency to her arrest, and the DOJ appears to have misled Canadian authorities in claiming that there was.

The Globe and Mail reported that the American warrant stated: “Unless Meng is provisionally arrested in Canada on Saturday, Dec. 1 … it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to secure her presence in the United States for prosecution…”

This was not true at all.

As a senior executive of a major multi-national corporation, Meng travelled routinely all over the world, and maintained two homes in Vancouver. As the Globe reported, she had recently traveled to the U.K., Ireland, France, Belgium, Poland and Japan, and was slated to next visit Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina. All have mutual U.S. extradition treaties.

Why pick Canada for this request, since we’d just gone through years of hostage imprisonment on another U.S. case?

And why the unseemly rush?

There was no hint of time pressure, unless Americans had another, undisclosed objective in mind in urgently seeking a Dec. 1 arrest.

Which as it turns out, they very probably did.

Meng’s arrest a glorified perp walk for a G20 show

Mere hours after Meng’s arrest in Vancouver on Dec. 1, 2018, presidents Trump and Xi sat down to dinner with their trade teams at the G20 in Buenos Aires.

What could be a better pressure tactic in trade talks than to orchestrate a surprise glorified perp walk on the global stage?

Meng’s arrest wasn’t important, necessary or urgent.

It was a show.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires, Argentina at a working dinner during the G20 summit on December 1, 2018. File photo from REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


Emerging from the meeting, Trump and Xi announced a cease-fire in the impending trade war. But days later, Trump twisted the knife into Xi by publicly offering to exchange Meng for trade concessions.

Just as he did with Ukraine, or with Turkey (for whom he fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara as a favour), or firing FBI director James Comey, or having his henchman AG Bill Barr get Mike Flynn’s charges dropped and Roger Stone’s sentencing manipulated, or unilaterally cancelling hard-won sanctions against China’s ZTE, Trump’s relationship with his DOJ and foreign relations is a study in dominance and self-dealing.

The moment Trump bartered Meng for a trade deal, he turned our justice system into his personal hostage-keeper. From that moment on, indeed from the moment the DOJ presented misleading evidence for its provisional extradition warrant, this proceeding has been stripped of legitimacy.

It was after this that China seized the two Michaels.

Our justice system, and the federal Crown have been hoodwinked into participating in a show trial and shakedown, against our own national interests and risking our citizens.

And we’ve been roped into a cartoonishly two-dimensional portrayal of the global dynamics at play. China bad, Canada good.

How did we get suckered so badly? How did we fail to protect our own citizens and courts from this reckless insult and abuse? How can we continue to dignify it by cloaking it in the robes of our judicial system, and lip-sync “rule of law” bromides?

We aren’t courageously standing on principle, we’re tip-toeing around Donald Trump, while our own citizens rot in a Chinese prison.

The time has come to put an end to this cruel charade.

End these extradition proceedings now, and bring our Michaels home.


B.C. eyes emissions trading to offset effects of LNG development, government documents show

Province considers trading under Paris Agreement a ‘priority’ to ensure it can push forward with industrial development and meet its climate commitments. But the COVID-19 pandemic has delayed international negotiations on trading rules, creating uncertainty on if and when this will be possible

B.C. LNG may help countries reduce their reliance on coal, but the growing industry threatens the province’s ability to meet its climate commitments. Photo: Shutterstock

The B.C. government may be banking on buying emissions reduction credits to offset the effects of future industrial development, according to documents obtained by The Narwhal through a freedom of information request. But the postponement of this year’s international climate conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic means prolonged uncertainty on if and when this will be possible under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Negotiations on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which will establish the rules for trading emissions reduction credits internationally, were set to continue at the United Nations climate conference this November. The conference has been delayed until November 2021.

The B.C. government considers emissions trading under Article 6 to be “a priority to ensure further industrial development fits within the B.C. climate plan,” according to a July 2019 briefing note prepared for former Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources minister Michelle Mungall (now minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Competitiveness) and obtained by The Narwhal.

“Emissions trading could be a mechanism to mitigate B.C. GHG emissions from industrial development by offering an internationally recognized path for sharing reductions,” the document says.

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Article 6 of the Paris Agreement will allow countries to purchase emissions reduction credits from other countries that have exceeded their reduction targets through voluntary agreements called internationally transferred mitigation outcomes, or ITMOs.

How countries are allowed to purchase these emissions reduction credits will depend on the final rulebook, but they may be able to invest in other countries’ emissions reduction projects, share emissions reduction technology or, as the B.C. government documents suggest, offer some form of trade concession.

Burgeoning LNG industry threatens B.C.’s ability to meet climate commitments 

B.C. has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. The province’s emissions, though, increased by 3.5 per cent between 2017 and 2018, according to Canada’s 2020 National Inventory Report to the United Nations.

While the actions outlined in the CleanBC plan are projected to get B.C. 80 per cent of the way to its 2030 target, additional measures are needed to cut the outstanding 5.5 megatonnes of greenhouse gases standing between B.C. and its target. That’s equivalent to the emissions from more than one million cars in a year.

Future emissions from the province’s burgeoning liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry could make the challenge of meeting its targets more difficult. There are several LNG projects at various stages of development in B.C., including the LNG Canada project, which is under construction in Kitimat. Phase one of the LNG Canada project will add an estimated four megatonnes of emissions per year, according to the B.C. government. If phase two goes ahead, total annual emissions will be an estimated 8.6 megatonnes by 2030 and 9.6 by 2050, according to a report from the Pembina Institute and the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions.

A graph of B.C.'s emissions and targets

B.C. has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 2007 levels by 2050, but emissions continue to rise and LNG development will push that goal further out of reach. Phase one of LGN Canada has received approval but phase two has not. Graph: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

The report concludes that LNG Canada, along with the Woodfibre LNG project, “would together emit enough carbon pollution to make meeting B.C.’s 2050 climate target virtually impossible.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said the government “is committed to meeting our emissions reductions targets with or without an agreement on Article 6.”

However, the province “recognizes that emissions trading across borders like those being explored at the United Nations through Article 6 may help jurisdictions meet global targets,” and it continues to work with the federal government to support international negotiations.

“CleanBC is one of the strongest plans of its kind in North America and includes dozens of actions across sectors to help us reach our targets and build a cleaner, better future.”

The ministry statement did not, however, include a response to questions about what consequences the delay of Article 6 negotiations could have for B.C.’s climate plan or the release of additional measures to ensure the province meets its 2030 targets, which are expected by the end of this year.

B.C. considers giving countries a deal on LNG so it can produce more LNG

B.C. appears to be considering emissions reduction credit trading as a way to offset greenhouse gases from the LNG industry in particular, according to an April 2019 briefing note prepared for Minister Mungall and obtained through the same freedom of information request.

The document suggests B.C. might be willing to offer a deal on LNG in exchange for the emissions reduction credits needed to meet its climate commitments. “Further work will have to be done on what the province and the federal government is willing to exchange in return for gaining the ITMOs (e.g. lower LNG prices, other trade concessions),” it says.

The briefing note mentions an opportunity to export LNG to Asia-Pacific countries including Japan, which is among the world’s largest importers of both coal and LNG.

“B.C.’s natural gas has much lower carbon intensity than similar products from other jurisdictions due to high regulatory standards and the availability of renewable, clean electricity,” it says.

While the paragraphs in the statement immediately after have been redacted, industry groups have repeatedly touted the potential for B.C.’s LNG exports to help reduce emissions from coal in a global context.

The Canadian LNG Alliance, an industry association, says liquefied natural gas production can help bolster the economy as part of the COVID-19 economic recovery and support a global transition to cleaner energy at the same time.

While the industry argues LNG will benefit the climate by replacing coal, which emits more greenhouse gases when it’s burned, a key concern observers is whether an uptake in natural gas would delay investments in renewable energy.

If countries such as Poland — home to the world’s largest lignite-fired power station — use B.C. LNG to reduce their reliance on coal, those countries will own the emissions reductions. Photo: VLLI / flickr

Moira Kelly, a spokesperson for federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, said in a statement to The Narwhal that the federal government’s priority is reducing emissions in Canada but that Ottawa recognizes “LNG is a transitional fuel that has the potential to significantly cut emissions as we transition to a clean economy.”

If other countries use B.C. LNG to replace coal, any emissions reductions would be owned by the countries that make the switch, said Kathryn Harrison, a University of British Columbia professor who studies climate policy. B.C., meanwhile, would take the hit for the greenhouse gases emitted during the production and transport of natural gas to LNG facilities, as well as the conversion of the gas to a liquid state for transport overseas.

A large-scale LNG industry would mean “significant emissions increases” in B.C., as the province is working to reduce its climate contributions.

“That’s a hard circle to square, so it doesn’t surprise me that they’re looking into international trading as a way forward,” Harrison said.

“It wouldn’t be necessarily illegitimate,” Harrison added. “What’s worrying to me is that we’re not having an open conversation about that and these are big policy decisions.”

Article 6 could make or break Paris Agreement 

The stakes are high. Depending on the rules, Article 6 could either “strengthen” or “essentially gut” the Paris Agreement, Harrison said.

“There’s a lot at stake and I think that’s why it’s the last piece of the Paris rulebook that is yet to be finalized,” she said.

At its best, trading of emissions reduction credits could allow countries to meet their targets at a lower cost, which in theory means governments may be more willing to ramp up their climate ambitions, Harrison said.

“If we don’t get it right, what we can have is one country paying another country for fake reductions and what that does is it gives the appearance that we’re making progress when in fact emissions aren’t going down and might even be going up,” she said.

There are concerns, for instance, that some credits issued through the Kyoto Protocol’s emissions trading system are the result of companies temporarily ramping up production to gain more credits for their efforts to reduce emissions, Harrison said.

Since countries set their own targets, Harrison is concerned they could set them lower in an effort to increase the number of credits they have to sell. Australia, for instance, had a “very weak” target under the Kyoto Protocol, which it beat with little effort, and now wants those credits to count under the Paris Agreement, she said.

“The scale of carry-forward credits is potentially very large and it’s not enough for one country to say, ‘Well, we won’t buy any of those,’ ” she said. “They’re still on the market.”

Another challenge is ensuring emissions reductions aren’t double counted. While Harrison said the Paris Agreement is quite clear on this matter, she noted Brazil has tried to oppose rules meant to prevent the double counting of emissions reductions.

Kelly, the federal spokesperson, said “Canada will continue to stand firm in insisting on rules for Article 6 that ensure environmental integrity, rigorous accounting and respect for the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

“It benefits everyone if we can agree on rules that ensure the reductions from any emissions trading are real and verifiable first,” she said.

LNG Canada project, Kitimat B.C. 2017

The site of the LNG Canada project in Kitimat B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

Exporting a fossil fuel to offset another fossil fuel shortsighted, observers say

Some observers say B.C. should focus on provincial rather than international solutions to meet its emissions reduction targets.

“There’s no doubt that the phasing out of coal is important, but over the long term if we’re substituting LNG, which is also a fossil fuel, for coal, that’s not a long-term solution to our climate challenge,” said Karen Tam Wu, regional director of British Columbia at the Pembina Institute.

Rather than trying to “export a fossil fuel to offset another fossil fuel,” B.C. should focus on reducing its emissions within the province, she said.

“That’s the part that we can control and that’s the part that we need to keep our eyes on.”

Tam Wu said there are still plenty of opportunities for B.C. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industry, freight and the energy used to heat and cool buildings.

Andrew Weaver, an independent MLA and former leader of the B.C. Green Party, pointed to the province’s recent investments in renewable energy projects to reduce reliance on diesel generation in First Nations communities as an example of the way forward.

As for the Article 6 negotiations, Weaver said he’s happy they have been delayed.

“It’s such a gong show with people figuring out loopholes to do nothing,” he said of Article 6, adding that we will have an opportunity post-pandemic “to do things differently moving forward, to build a clean economy — one that will actually be resilient and vibrant and prosperous in the years ahead.”

B.C. eyes emissions trading to offset effects of LNG development ...Ainslie Cruickshank is a Vancouver-based journalist focused on stories about the environment. She has written for the the Toronto Star, the Edmonton Journal, iPolitics, and the Whitehorse Star. Ainslie has an undergraduate degree in journalism from Carleton University and a master’s of arts in public and international affairs from the University of Ottawa.

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

Saanich North and the Islands MLA Adam Olsen, wearing traditional Tsartlip clothing, speaks to the introduction of Indigenous rights law in the B.C. legislature, Oct. 24, 2019. (Hansard TV)

B.C.’s first annual report on its embrace of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is being presented in the legislature next week, while debate continues over the obligations it imposes on the province.

The report, a requirement under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act approved by all parties in the B.C. legislature in November, was released July 3 and covers the first four months of its existence. It emphasizes progress such as updating B.C.’s school curriculum to include more Indigenous culture and history, and changes to child welfare laws to keep Indigenous children with their families and communities.

Its release comes a day after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the latest appeal against the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. Work continues on that and B.C.’s other pipeline project, the Coastal Gaslink line to deliver natural gas for export from northeast gas fields to a terminal at Kitimat.

Supported by most Indigenous communities on the pipeline route, Coastal Gaslink sparked Canada-wide protests and rail blockades immediately after Premier John Horgan’s government became the first jurisdiction in Canada to commit to implement UNDRIP. While B.C. politicians insisted its call for “free, prior and informed consent” isn’t a veto over resource projects, protesters and student supporters responded by blockading the legislature as well.

The framework law passed in November commits the B.C. government to an “action plan” to implement the UNDRIP principles in B.C. Indigenous Relations Minister Scott Fraser said the plan is still expected to be completed by the end of 2020, as the province holds a rare summer session after the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The B.C. Liberals ultimately supported the law, after questions about which of many UN commitments it enshrines. One is UNDRIP Article 39, which states: Indigenous people have the right to access to financial and technical assistance from states and through international cooperation, for enjoying the rights contained in this declaration.”

Fraser replied that UNDRIP “does not create a positive obligation on the part of the state, but there will be conversations about funding from the provincial government.”

Conversations so far have produced a share of B.C.’s gambling revenues and commitments to add provincial funds to the federal responsibility to build housing on reserves.

RELATED: B.C. first to endorse UN Indigenous rights in law

RELATED: B.C.’s pioneering law adds to conflict, confusion

RELATED: Indigenous rights law first job of 2020, Horgan says

Indigenous MLAs had their say as well before the framework bill passed. B.C. Green MLA Adam Olsen said Indigenous consent is key to stopping energy projects like Trans Mountain and Coastal Gaslink. B.C. Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, a former Haisla Nation chief counsellor, argued that Indigenous consent already exists in Canadian case law.

“That’s why we have LNG,” Ross told the legislature. “That’s why we have peace in the woods.”

In a year-end interview, Olsen, Saanich North and the Islands MLA and a member of the Tsartlip First Nation, said “consent” is more than consultation that has been required of federal and provincial governments.

“So while it might be a more stiff task to get consent, it is a more clear determination at the end of it,” Olsen said. “Consent is not a veto over resource development. No rights are absolute.”



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Photo: Jodi Voice Yellowfish (center, wearing hat) and Snowy Voice (far left behind banner) during the Indigenous-led 2020 Women’s March in Dallas. Photo credit: Eli Hickman / AIHD Little Brother of War, Ambassador. 

Native American women are murdered and sexually assaulted at rates as high as 10 times the average in certain counties in the United States—crimes overwhelmingly committed by individuals outside the Native American community. These crimes are particularly likely in remote settings where transient workers – oil workers, for example – live in temporary housing units called “man camps” on and near Tribal lands. Their crimes fall between jurisdictional cracks, leaving victims and their families without recourse. As Nick Martin summarized, these are “Patterns of violent men and extractive industries breezing through land they do not own to take lives that do not belong to them. Patterns of Tribal sovereignty being undermined and jurisdictional borders being crossed. Patterns of police dismissing concerned mothers and fathers and aunties and grandparents with the excuse that ‘runaways always come back.’ Patterns of coroners dodging paperwork and scrawling ‘other’ next to the line titled ‘Race’ and ‘accidental death’ next to ‘C.O.D.’ Patterns of government officials, top to bottom, ignoring practical, sovereignty-first reforms and instead hoarding the kind of power that keeps the crisis alive.”

The Hashtag & Grassroots Responses

In response to this epidemic of violence, the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (#MMIW) movement is finally drawing much-needed attention from law enforcement, legislators, and the general public. Grassroots efforts of First Nations women and families in Canada first compelled the Canadian government to initiate a national inquiry in December 2015. Similar groups later achieved the same in the U.S. And it has been the #MMIW hashtag in social media, begun by Sheila North Wilson, former Grand Chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc., that helped propel local and regional activism to a transnational scale.
In the middle of Canadian government’s inquiry, #MMIW and #MMIWG tweets produced 55,400 unique users and 156.1 million impressions. Now, according to a Union Metrics Twitter Snapshot Report, #MMIW tweets can generate several hundred thousand impressions every 4 hours. Most of these tweets use the hashtag to call attention to their own missing loved one, to blanket local and regional networks with time-sensitive information; to share information about police and FBI response to family’s requests for help; or to respond to both specific MMIW cases and general MMIW education and awareness campaigns (e.g., Drag the Red and #NotInvisible). In short, the hashtag is mobilizing advocacy across Indian Country.

One such advocacy group is MMIW-Texas, created in the Winter of 2018 by Jodi Voice Yellowfish (Oglala Lakota, Muscogee Creek, and Cherokee) with her sister, Snowy Voice. MMIW-TX addresses the unique circumstances of vulnerable native women in a region where several nations have claimed sovereignty since the 16th century. The Voice sisters aim to build MMIW-TX in a way that is sensitive to this history, with a focus on education, on creating a safe community aligned “against predatory behavior and lateral violence”, and on expanding the resources available to victims and families over their lifetimes

Over just a few months in 2017, Jody Voice went from collecting names for a small, local vigil, to being invited to lead off the Dallas Women’s March as MMIW-TX and raising the visibility of MMIW to communities across Texas. Voice was already an Indigenous rights advocate and American Indian Heritage Day (Texas) Ambassador when she volunteered to help with that first vigil. But she credits Dallas’ 2018 Heritage Day Celebration for igniting the MMIW movement locally.

MMIW-TX is now an established program within the American Indian Heritage Day of Texas, identifying resources, helping victims and families, and offering workshops on self-defense and internet safety. Voice emphasizes safety, awareness, and inclusivity, and says that MMIW-TX is using its second year to “hone their message.” Facebook and the hashtag movement are still a “main avenue” for sharing information about missing and victimized women and girls.

And Voice hopes to expand from there, ensuring MMIW-Tx is a trusted resource not only for Texas’ three reservation communities, but for its thousands of urban and non-affiliated Native Americans. “We’re not just dealing with jurisdictional issues here,” says Voice, referring to the deadly gap in oversight plaguing women in reservation communities. “Our community is spread out… urban but not dense.” And this too makes Indigenous women invisible, their vulnerability unrecognized.

Recognizing the Problem

U.S. federal attention to the MMIW crisis first seemed to improve when the 2016 NIJ Research Report on Violence Against American Indian/Alaska Native Women and Men was published. That report was based on 1,542 phone surveys completed in 2010, and found that more than 84% of American Indian/Alaska Native women (1.5 million people) experience violence in their lifetimes, 67% were concerned for their own safety, and 41% had been physically injured from physical violence by intimate partners, stalking, and sexual violence.

Then in 2018, the Seattle-based Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI) completed its landmark survey, reporting 5,712 missing Alaska Native and American Indian women and girls, only 116 of whom were registered in the Department of Justice database. Using data from 71 urban cities, the UIHI report exposed the tremendous scale of this problem: thousands of Indigenous women who’d gone unrecognized, ignored, and unprotected.

With these publications, it became clear that not only was there an invisible epidemic, but that active neglect, discrimination, and apathy had kept it hidden. A February 2018 policy brief by the National Congress of American Indians explained how the NIJ report (and several census-based reports) was dependent on faulty Department of Justice databases. By September of 2019, BIA Deputy Bureau Director Addington testified that his office had not compiled data on missing persons or domestic violence statistics. In other words, Tribal affiliation data were left out of these national databases.

The alarming statistics are now becoming widely known. AI/AN are 2.5 times more likely to experience violent crimes, 2 times more likely to experience rape/sexual assault. Data gaps and conflicts over jurisdiction are a large part of the problem, since Federal, state, Tribal and local governments share responsibilities in many of these cases, “These data gaps impact how law enforcement officials handle or follow up on cases. Underreporting, racial misclassification, potential gender or racial bias, and a lack of law enforcement resources required to follow through and close out cases appropriately, are just some of the challenges faced when working on MMIP cases.”

U.S. Government Responses

A new partnership between the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) will address data management and tracking in these agencies, aiming to improve not only tracking, but also budgeting and educational efforts specific to MMIW in both Tribal and non-tribal offices. Traditionally, the BIA’s Office of Justice Services collects monthly crime statistics from both Tribal and BIA law enforcement programs, but this did not track missing persons or domestic violence statistics. The new BIA partnership with DOJ’s National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) went live with its new data collection strategies in late February 2019.

Legislative responses are also under consideration. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which had largely failed to protect Native women, was reauthorized in 2013 to give Tribes jurisdiction over domestic-violence cases committed against Native Americans on Tribal lands. This meant Tribal courts could prosecute non-Native suspects in domestic-violence cases. But a new provision proposed in the 2019 reauthorization would have closed “the boyfriend loophole” even further by extending Tribal jurisdiction to include perpetrators of sexual violence and stalking. That reauthorization failed in the Senate last April, over largely Republican and National Rifle Association opposition to provisions barring stalkers and abusive partners from buying guns.

A bill to address the data collection gaps, nicknamed Savannah’s Act (named for Savannah LaFontaine-Greywind who was abducted and killed in North Dakota) and targeting DOJ/Tribal coordination in reporting, failed to pass the House last year, but is again under consideration in both the House of Representatives (H.R.2733) and the Senate (S.227) for 2020. And a third piece of legislation, the Not Invisible Act (H.R.2438S.982) would create a joint commission between the DOI and DOJ to promote coordination with an ongoing advisory body. Finally, in November, the president signed an executive order establishing his own task force to address MMIW – Operation Lady Justice. Representatives of Indigenous communities attending that signing expressed support for the task force, but others consider the effort underfunded and without Tribal representation.

State level legislative responses have also emerged, such as in WashingtonArizonaMontanaNorth Dakota, and South Dakota, and task forces have been created in many more states.

What Else Is Needed?

Legislative reform to support Tribal law enforcement and governments is critical to resolving the MMIW crisis. Failure to pass pending legislation in 2020 would represent a failure of the many MMIW task forces to capitalize on this recent momentum.

Meanwhile, grassroots Indigenous groups (like the Voice sisters’ MMIW-Texas), which keep up pressure on legislators to achieve remedies, remain fueled by the #MMIW hashtag and community support. Native American leaders are also building and maintaining community databases, running book groups and youth initiatives, holding red dress exhibitions, and taking action on social mediamarches, and in vigils. These urgent actions should be at their peak in advance of May 5, 2020 National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Native Women and Girls. There are many ways to participate.


By Graham Chivers