Alberta’s new labour law breaks old ground while undermining unions

Image: Screenshot of Alberta Government video​

Alberta is about to make child labour great again!

If you think this is a breakthrough, you’re probably a fast-food franchise owner.

Yesterday, Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party introduced a bill called the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act that is clearly intended to push labour relations in Alberta back toward the 19th century.

High among Bill 32’s changes, which Labour Minister Jason Copping ludicrously tried to pass off as post-COVID-19 economic stimulus and red tape reduction, was a provision allowing 13- and 14-year-olds to be put to work in jobs that even under past Progressive Conservative governments required a special permit.

“This economic crisis due to COVID-19 has been especially difficult for our youth, who are already struggling to find employment here in Alberta,” Copping piously read from his talking points during an “embargoed news conference” with mostly compliant mainstream reporters on the line yesterday morning.

Flanked with unintended irony by “red tape reduction” minister Grant Hunter and cabinet’s private-sector union liaison, MLA Searle Turton, the minister continued: “So as we work toward relaunching the economy, the proposed changes will help youth find work by expanding the types of jobs 13 and 14 year olds are allowed to do without first needing a permit.”

“These are just some of the ways flexible rules around employment standards will help the business recovery and help Albertans return to work so they can take care of themselves and their families,” Copping’s talking point concluded. Great news, I guess, if you’re a 13-year-old who heads their own household.

Copping, fumbling his lines like a man who knew in his heart this was disingenuous claptrap, didn’t do nearly as well responding to questions.

For example, one reporter asked: Won’t this put children at risk?

“Generally speaking,” Copping haltingly explained, it’ll just be “light office work, light janitorial work, and the hospitality industry, primarily.” Oh, OK, then, nothing hot or sharp in a restaurant kitchen!

And why so restrictive, one wonders. Don’t 11- and 12-year-olds need work too? Especially if they’re tall!

Won’t those new coal mines that will be creating Alberta’s jobs of the future need strong young workers too? I kid you not, I actually heard former PC MLA Robin Campbell, now president of the Coal Association of Canada, talking about “Alberta’s ethical coal” on the radio yesterday!

No need for rules, Copping continued, the government can trust employers to do the right thing. Plus, “we fully expect parents to be involved with their kids in terms of, you know, where are they working and what they can do. So, you know, we’ll be able to manage it that way, through inspections and through complaints. …”

This would be funny were it not setting the stage for tragedy. If you’re a parent and your 13-year-old gets a job next summer, you’d damn well better question her closely about what she’ll be doing, what kind of equipment she’ll be expected to operate, and what kind of safety training she gets.

Don’t expect her union to be able to speak up for her because this legislation is principally designed to ensure she doesn’t have one or, if by some miracle she does, it’s unable to do its job effectively.

In other words, Bill 32 has absolutely nothing to do with restoring balance in Alberta’s workplaces, which thanks to timid labour law reforms enacted by the overly cautious NDP government in 2017 that nudged the most regressive labour laws in Canada into the middle of the 20th century, the balance in Alberta’s workplaces remains heavily tilted in favour of employers.

Rather, it’s a wholesale effort to hamstring unions with red tape and unconstitutional limits on their right to advocate for their members and their members’ rights to associate and speak freely, while allowing employers to conduct themselves as they please.

Litigators will be pricing retirement properties on Salt Spring Island because this constitutionally challenged law is going to make lawyers rich.

On Bill 32’s requirement union members should get a vote on whether their dues can be spent on “political causes” — undefined, of course, so I guess we’ll just have to wait for Kenney’s cabinet to make something up — Copping claimed “we are standing up for individual workers’ rights … by allowing workers to choose if they want to support a political campaign with their union dues.”

Consulting his talking points, he waxed indignant that “some national unions have used provincial workers’ dues to campaign against Albertans, their jobs, and against Alberta’s core industries and interests.”

“We will not stand for unions, such as Unifor, campaigning against the interests of Albertans in our core sectors, using money of hard working people who they represent in those very sectors without their explicit approval,” he said. It will be interesting to see what Unifor has to say about this.

Bill 32 will also make it illegal for a picket line to even slow down someone trying to cross, a provision that is bound to create picket line violence — although that may in fact be the government’s goal.

It would allow cabinet to set union dues — a plan with some interesting legal implications of its own, also certain to be challenged in court.

It attempts to ban secondary picketing — surely a restriction on charter protected rights. Nevertheless, Copping assured a reporter, it will still be legal for union members to demonstrate at the legislature or city hall — at least until they’re declared to be “critical infrastructure.”

Additionally, it would require democratically elected unions to give members an annual financial report, which I personally don’t think is a bad idea. But since most do so anyway, it’s hardly needed except to advance the UCP’s false narrative about unions and pile on more red tape.

Oddly for a government that claims to be standing up for workers’ rights, a provision hidden in the bill would let the government strip employees of their opportunity to change unions or decertify. Currently that can happen during the “open period” near the end date of a collective agreement. Bill 32 allows employers and unions to cut deals that ensure there will be no open period, giving anti-democratic unions even more power than they have now.

The Christian Labour Association of Canada was the only union to endorse Bill 32.

Plus, of course, Bill 32 heaps red tape on unions. Challenged about this by a reporter, Copping actually gave a halfway forthright answer: “We’re making some changes which are policy changes which will increase to some regard some red tape, so this is a policy choice.”

Exactly right. It’s a policy choice to make it hard for unions to do their jobs, to ensure working people don’t have effective representation and to make sure no one speaks for people without union representation in society. Even if they’re children.


David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog,


B.C. First Nation secures funding for multi-million-dollar project in ancient rainforest park

Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park protects a portion of the only inland temperate rainforest in the world

The main attraction in the Ancient Forest Provincial Park, also known as, Chun T’oh Whudujut, is viewing some of the largest old-growth cedars in the province. (Government of British Columbia/Provided)

A new injection of government money is helping a B.C. First Nation start an ambitious project in the world’s only inland temperate rainforest.

The Lheidli T’enneh Nation, whose traditional territories stretch from Prince George to the Alberta border, announced Monday that both the provincial and federal government are contributing funds toward an $8.7 million development project the nation is planning in the Ancient Forest Provincial Park, or Chun T’oh Whudujut in the local Lheidli language.

Chun T’oh Whudujut is located 120 kilometres east of Prince George, and according to B.C. Parks, covers an area of over 11,000 hectares, including 685 hectares of protected land.

The Lheidli T’enneh Nation plans to use the new funds to build new hiking trails, a sweat lodge, a pit house and a gazebo in the park. The project, which is expected to take three years, also includes improving existing boardwalks, access roads, washrooms, parking and signage.

Some of the trees in the forest could be up to 2,000 years old, according to B.C. Parks. (B.C. Parks)


A new interpretive centre will also be built that will share Lheidli T’enneh culture with park visitors

“We are just actually putting our history back together and we want to showcase that to the world,” Lheidli T’enneh Chief, Dayi Clay Pountney, said Tuesday on Daybreak North.

According to Pountney, the park land is closely tied to Lheidli T’enneh cultural practices and traditions, such as gathering medicinal plants, a practice he says was interrupted by the impact of residential schools on so many nation members.

“A lot of the medicines were lost … so we are trying to revive that,” said Pountney.

“There are certain plants within that ancient forest area that were thought to be extinct and they’re still there,” he added.

Pountney said the park is also the only area on the nation’s territory where cedars grow. Generations ago, in times of war, the Lheidli T’enneh people would strip the bark from these massive trees and weave it together as armour.

According to B.C. Parks, some trees in Chun T’oh Whudujut, like certain Western red cedars, could be up to 2,000 years old.

The B.C. government announced it would be turning the ancient forest, previously maintained by volunteers, into a provincial park, in March 2016.

A sign post in the park explains the area’s long history. (Audrey McKinnon/CBC)


In 2018, the province and the Lheidli T’enneh Nation signed memorandum of understanding to work together on the planning and management of the park.

The park project will provide construction jobs, as well as long-term work for people as guides and interpreters, Rena Zatorski, Lheidli T’enneh community economic development manager, said in a statement.

“This project will allow us to share an area of our territory that is very special to us. We intend to ensure that the visitor experience is memorable, respectful, and life-changing,” Zatorski said.

The park currently includes a 450-metre-long universal access boardwalk and another 2.3 kilometres of boardwalk that provides viewing access to ancient trees and a waterfall.


By  Bridgette Watson With files from Daybreak North

Lending a Hand to Sustainability

Handprint thinking, a concept developed about a decade ago, is meant to complement ecological footprints and frame human actions in terms of how much good they can do to promote sustainability.

In environmental management and sustainability, handprint thinking is a way of looking at the environmental good of human actions. The framework is intended to complement the notion of environmental footprints, which emphasize negative ecological contributions. Credit: Unsplash/Tom Ezzatkhah

Over the past 30 years, the concept of ecological footprints has gained traction as a metric for understanding individual and collective impacts on the environment. The term originated in the early 1990s and has grown so commonplace that entities ranging from professional sports leagues to financial institutions use it to understand their resource use. A carbon footprint, for example, characterizes an individual’s or organization’s carbon emissions.

However, to overcome daunting global sustainability challenges, it is not enough to know that our actions generate negative impacts, argue Guillaume et al. in a new study; recognizing humanity’s positive contributions is also key to creating a sustainable future. Enter the environmental handprint.

Handprint thinking—initially established about a decade ago—is intend to promote affirmative environmental action and complement the notion of footprints. Whereas ecological footprints can cause counterproductive stress and paralysis, a positive approach reveals opportunities for improvement and clarity on how to act, the authors suggest.

In the study, the authors lay a foundation for evaluating environmental handprints. They establish three core principles of handprint thinking and identify critical questions to address when conducting a handprint assessment. The three principles include encouraging activities with positive impacts, connecting handprint analyses to footprint reductions while adding value to them, and identifying actions to take.

The authors provide a case study examining the annual food water footprint of an average individual in Finland. This average person eats more meat products than national recommendations suggest and often lunches at a workplace cafeteria. In this context, the authors explored opportunities for action—and trade-offs of choices—by this person, factors influencing the person’s capacity to act, and pathways to influence others.

In the example, the authors find that average Finns can reduce their food water footprint by 51% to 69%, depending on the stringency of their efforts. Even modest attempts to avoid overeating, reduce meat consumption, and limit food waste can yield substantial gains.

The handprint concept empowers individuals by giving them authority to reduce their environmental footprint. Through their analysis, the authors contribute theory to bolster handprint thinking and practical implications for implementing it in future research and real-world settings. (Earth’s Future, 2020)


—Aaron Sidder, Freelance Writer

Police chiefs call on Ottawa to decriminalize possession of illicit drugs for personal use

Efforts should be directed at cracking down on drug trafficking, production, they say

A man prepares to use a drug in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in this file photo. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is calling on federal lawmakers to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

As Canada continues to battle an opioid epidemic, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police is calling on federal lawmakers to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illegal drugs for personal consumption.

CACP’s president, Chief Const. Adam Palmer, said it’s time to rethink how police and governments approach the use and abuse of illegal drugs in order to save lives.

“Arresting individuals for simple possession of illicit drugs has proven to be ineffective. It does not save lives,” Palmer said. “The CACP recognizes substance use and addiction as a public health issue. Being addicted to a controlled substance is not a crime and should not be treated as such.

“We recommend that Canada’s enforcement-based approach for possession be replaced with a health-care approach that diverts people from the criminal justice system.”

CACP is a non-profit that represents about 1,300 police chiefs from federal, First Nations, provincial, regional, transportation and military police services across the country.

Palmer said that, as an alternative to the criminal model, partnerships could be formed between social services, police, the health-care sector and governments to ensure drug users get access to the treatment they need.

The focus of police efforts, he said, should be on cracking down on drug trafficking and the illegal production and importation of drugs — a task the police are better suited to address.

Palmer said such a shift in policing would require changes at the federal level to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

In 2018, the CACP tasked a committee with exploring the impacts on public safety and policing of moving toward decriminalization.


That report, delivered this month, concluded that substance abuse is a public health issue and that taking a public health approach to the problem would lead to lower rates of crime, overdoses and blood-borne diseases.

Palmer was asked about the #defundthepolice movement on social media and whether police forces in Canada are willing to see their funding diverted toward social services or health care.

He said that in Vancouver, where he serves as chief constable of the Vancouver Police Department, police are already looking the other way on cases of simple possession in order to focus resources on trafficking and production — so there may not be much money to divert.

Palmer did say he was willing to discuss the notion of redirecting police funding to other initiatives if all affected parties are consulted.

A statement from Minister of Health Patty Hajdu and Justice Minister David Lametti said they welcomed the “endorsement of a holistic approach” to dealing with the opioid crisis.

“We appreciate efforts made by law enforcement officers to consider alternative options to criminal charges for simple possession of illicit drugs in appropriate cases, and recognize the importance of reducing barriers to treatment, as well as integrated partnerships between law enforcement and health and social services,” the statement said.

The ministers went on to say that the federal government would continue to work with substance abuse experts, first responders and law enforcement to further their own public health approach to dealing with the opioid epidemic.

“Our government remains committed to advancing evidence-based responses to help reverse the trend of opioid overdose deaths and other substance-related harms in Canada.”



As the deadly opioid crisis rages, Canada’s police chiefs say they’re ready for a new approach


Hydrogen Production With A Low Carbon Footprint

Inauguration of the largest hydrogen plant

In a previous article, I analyzed the carbon footprint of producing hydrogen from fossil fuels. That is how over 95% of the world’s hydrogen is currently produced.

To recap, the carbon footprint of hydrogen production from natural gas in a steam methane reformer (SMR) is higher than from directly burning the natural gas.

The carbon footprint I calculated was 280 grams of carbon dioxide emissions per kilowatt-hour of hydrogen production. On a mass basis, it is 9.3 kilograms of carbon dioxide emitted per kilogram of hydrogen produced.

However, it is possible in theory to capture the carbon dioxide from this process and either use it or sequester it. It is not typically done for economic reasons, but it is possible.

But that also begs the question of whether there are environmentally better pathways for hydrogen production. The SMR route has historically been the most economic pathway, but there are potential pathways with lower carbon emissions.

Hydrogen from Electrolysis

Most of the hydrogen not produced by steam reforming is produced by electrolysis of water. When an electric current is passed through water, the reaction can be represented as:

2 H2O → O2 + 2 H2

Then when hydrogen is combusted or reacted in a fuel cell, it combines with oxygen and once again becomes water.

However, the laws of thermodynamics require that it always takes more energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen than you can obtain from the hydrogen.

Why, then, would you ever spend more energy to produce hydrogen than you can obtain from using it?

There are a couple of scenarios in which this could make sense.

Wanted: Cheap Electricity

Renewable power has grown rapidly in the past decade. In some places, it has created intermittent periods of excess power. For example, California has created so much solar power that at times it was cheaper to pay Arizona to take the excess power than to significantly curtail power. This scenario has also been seen in European countries like Germany, and it is likely to increase in frequency as more renewables are added to the grid.

Negatively-priced power would be an ideal source of electricity for hydrogen production, depending on the level of intermittency. It may not be economical to produce hydrogen only a couple of times a month, but as more renewables are added to the grid, the potential to produce too much power at times will grow. Hydrogen produced via electrolysis and stored for later use – essentially acting as a battery – could be a good solution to help smooth the intermittency.

But hydrogen production from electrolysis doesn’t require negatively-priced power to be economical. It only requires that the value of the electricity inputs is less than the value of the hydrogen outputs. That is why today some companies will convert two BTUs of natural gas into one BTU of liquid fuel. The single BTU of liquid fuel is more valuable than the two BTUs of natural gas.

If the goal is to minimize the carbon footprint, the electricity inputs should be low-carbon. That means either renewable or nuclear power – if the price isn’t too high.

Putting it into Practice

This is not just theoretical. I have visited an energy lab in Hawaii where this is actually being done. The lab was producing 12 kilograms of hydrogen per day, which has an energy content of about 12 gallons of gasoline. That is not at commercial scale, but it demonstrates viability. And of course, the economics should improve with scale, and with cheaper solar power.

The nuclear to hydrogen route is being explored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), which has chosen three nuclear plants to begin making hydrogen for commercial use. One of these plants will produce hydrogen for transport, one will produce hydrogen for grid balancing, and one will produce hydrogen for storage.

The DOE is also funding work on High-Temperature Steam Electrolysis (HTSE) using high-temperature nuclear systems. This process uses electricity and heat generated from nuclear power in an integrated electrolysis system. In 2018, the DOE funded three projects that are attempting to advance this technology. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that the electricity input could be about 35% less than that of conventional electrolysis.

The Carbon Footprint

The carbon footprint of electrolysis will depend strongly on the source of electricity. When that electricity is a low-carbon source, the subsequent carbon footprint is relatively low.

For solar-based alkaline electrolysis, the carbon footprint has been estimated at 2.0 to 2.3 kg of carbon dioxide per kg of hydrogen produced. For solar-based high-temperature steam electrolysis (HTSE), it is estimated to be as low as 1.o kg of carbon dioxide per kg of hydrogen produced.

The same source estimates that some nuclear-based processes, and wind-based electrolysis have an even lower carbon footprint.


The carbon footprint of most of the world’s hydrogen production is relatively high. However, the use of excess intermittent power, or just low-priced, low-carbon electricity offers the possibility of hydrogen production at a much lower rate. Current estimates are that these pathways have 80-90% lower carbon footprint than the SMR process that currently produces most of the world’s hydrogen.


Robert Rapier

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What would it take to decarbonise the global economy?

Lots of clean electricity and a revolutionary shift towards the lightest gas, writes Henry Tricks

From behind the wheel of a self-driving electric Tesla model S, gliding amid the forests and fjords of Norway, the future of the planet looks pretty good. It almost feels as if you are on the road, hands-free, to a post-fossil-fuel future. Virtually all of Norway’s electricity is emissions-free. It comes from hydropower delivered by cascading waterfalls, dams and rivers that run so close to the roads that you can almost run your fingers through them. There are so many fast-charging stations that you are unlikely to get stranded. Teslas have become so run-of-the-mill in Oslo that it is not unusual to see them spattered with mud, their seats matted with dog hair.

When your destination is Rjukan, three hours west of Oslo, which in the early 20th century was one of the world’s biggest power plants, alternatives to fossil fuels look even more achievable. This is where one of the best potential zero-carbon options, hydrogen, was produced by hydroelectricity as far back as 1928. Cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells have now started to appear on Norway’s streets, even though there may be much better uses of the gas than powering vehicles over short distances. A Hyundai Nexo, owned by Nel, a Norwegian hydrogen company that traces its roots back to Rjukan, carries a message on its rear window: “Thanks for the ride, dinosaurs! We’ll take it from here.” That could be the motto for the age of decarbonisation. Or it could be extreme hyperbole.

Alongside China, Norway has helped supercharge demand for electric vehicles, but it could afford to finance the tax breaks and other incentives because of the immense wealth it derives from oil and gas. Hydrocarbons produced by the state energy company, Equinor, generated 310m tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2017. That was almost as much as the total carbon dioxide (CO2 ) belched out by Britain, a country with 12 times Norway’s population.

Torn in much the same fashion between a desire to tackle global warming and a dependence on fossil fuels, the world is moving far too slowly to decarbonise its energy system. Acting on the promises made under the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change could see the world on a path to global warming of 3ºC above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, rather than the 1.5-2ºC countries agreed to strive for. To stabilise global temperatures, humans must be putting no more COinto the atmosphere than they are taking out by about mid-century.

Coming clean

Renewables are advancing, absorbing twice as much investment for power generation as coal, gas, oil and nuclear combined last year. Sales of electric vehicles (evs) are also gaining momentum. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a clean-energy consultancy, it took 17 months, from mid-2014 to 2016, for the global number of passenger evs to rise from 1m to 2m. It took just six months this year for them to go from 3m to 4m.

Yet last year the global energy system still derived 85% of its oomph from fossil fuels, and the International Energy Agency (iea), a forecaster, expects global COemissions to reach a new record this year. In order to mitigate the impact of global warming and reduce the air pollution that does serious harm to physical and mental health around the world, the immediate task is to encourage the spread of zero-carbon (“clean”) electricity and battery storage. By some estimates, power supply needs to increase fourfold over the next 30 years. To produce this electricity will require a huge increase in renewables, as well as nuclear power (more likely in the developing than developed world), as well as the use of fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage (ccs). And that is just what specialists call the “easy” part.

Decarbonising parts of the economy where electricity and lithium-ion batteries cannot be easily used, such as heavy transport, heating and industry, will be much harder. In 2014 (the latest year for which figures are available) these “hard-to-abate” sectors produced about 15bn tonnes of CO2, or 41% of the total, compared with 13.6bn tonnes for the entire power sector (see chart). The biggest industrial emitters are cement, steel and chemicals.

In order to limit global warming to less than 2°C, total emissions from global energy use across industry alone will have to be 50-80% lower by 2050 than they are now, and as much as 75-90% lower if the rise in temperatures is to be capped at 1.5ºC, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ipcc), a un-backed body of experts. Even then, over the course of the century hundreds of billions of tonnes of CO2 will need to be extracted from the atmosphere, in what are called “negative emissions”.

It is an historic undertaking. In the 200 years from the start of the coal age to 1970, the burning of fossil fuels, flaring and cement-making produced 420bn tonnes of greenhouse gases, mostly CO2, or about 1,200 times the weight of every person on the planet today. Between 1970 and 2011, the amount tripled to 1.3trn tonnes.

CO2 is invisible and odourless, so it is harder to visualise the effects of all of this than for more tangible scourges like sulphur and nitrogen oxides, which cause acid rain. Yet the quantities belched out are staggering. The steel and cement industries each produce more CO2 than any country except China and the United States. For every tonne of cement produced, almost three-quarters of a tonne of COseeps into the atmosphere. Cars and trucks are an even bigger burden on the climate; and knowing how much you produce when you fly can ruin the joy of taking off in an aeroplane. This report focuses on energy-related emissions, not greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture, forestry and other land use. The latter account for about a quarter of total emissions.

Where were you while we were getting hydrogen?

Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine, has led a team of researchers in mapping out what a net-zero-emissions energy system would look like, using a set of already available technologies that he describes as “fairly simple and finite”. Besides electricity and batteries, they include hydrogen and ammonia, biofuels, synthetic fuels, ccs, and removal of carbon from the atmosphere. They can have many end uses. Hydrogen could have a role in light and heavy transport, heating, steelmaking and synthetic fuels for jet aircraft. ccs could be used in heating and cement-making.

Each of them has its pros and cons. There are obstacles to making, moving and using hydrogen on a large scale. Biofuels such as ethanol are already blended with hydrocarbons in fuels in places such as Brazil and America, but energy crops compete with the food industry for land, and their cultivation also produces greenhouse gases. Emission-free synthetic fuels rely on lots of hydrogen and carbon monoxide to produce surrogate hydrocarbons, so their development hinges on low-cost supplies of those two gases. ccs, as Mr Davis puts it, elicits a “collective groan” from environmentalists, who see it as life support for the fossil-fuel industry. But it is hard to imagine decarbonisation of industries like cement without capturing the CO2 emitted in flue gases.

Some are much closer to commercialisation than others. Those working on decarbonising the energy system have an approximate time frame for their endeavours. They say 2025-35 could see the emergence of battery and hydrogen-powered long-distance lorries, and hydrogen-fuelled residential heating. In the 2030s, synthetic hydrocarbons may be developed for ships and planes. In the 2040s, ccs and hydrogen could be applied at vast scale in industry. By the 2050s there would be full-scale carbon removal, either by massive reforestation or direct capture from the air.

All this may seem pie in the sky if you live in Africa, or another impoverished region, where the main priority is to satisfy existing energy demand. It will hinge crucially on what government mandates and tax incentives are in place to encourage the shift.

Still, this report will argue that the obstacles to decarbonisation of the energy sector are not insurmountable. What is more, they could bring economic benefits. The ipcc estimates that, between 2016 and 2035, the annual cost of keeping the rise in temperature to 1.5ºC would be about $2.4trn, or roughly 2.5% of world gdp. Last year total energy investment was $1.6trn, mostly in coal, oil and gas. Adair Turner, chairman of the Energy Transitions Commission (etc), a global body, says the additional cost per year of running the hard-to-abate industries with net-zero emissions would be $1.2trn in 2050. “You can be absolutely terrified [by the amount]. But if you could go back to building railways in 1850, I’m willing to bet you would also terrify yourself.”

Moreover, none of the technologies involved is new; and, unlike fossil fuels, the more they are used, the more their costs fall, providing an incentive to use them across as many industries as possible. Hydrogen could be the most promising, because it is the best complement to mass electrification and could also be used in heavy transport, heating and industry.

In a report, the etc says that to achieve net-zero CO2 emissions, global hydrogen production needs to rise from about 60m tonnes a year today to 500m-700m tonnes by mid-century, even without assuming there will be many hydrogen fuel-cell cars. That sounds ambitious but the interest in hydrogen is growing fast. Membership of the Hydrogen Council, a forum made up of global chemical, car and oil companies started in 2017, has quadrupled in 18 months. Francis O’Sullivan, head of research at the mit Energy Initiative, says: “Battery storage may feel like a headline act in the transition. But ultimately it will play second fiddle to hydrogen.”

To make the hydrogen cleanly, most of it will have to come from electrolysis of water, which today accounts for only 5% of hydrogen production (the rest comes from “steam reforming” of fossil fuels). That will require vast quantities of low-cost, zero-carbon electricity. Making that available, along with batteries to electrify cars, is one of the most pressing priorities in the coming decade.


Why bailing out oil and gas is a bad recovery strategy for Canada

A gloved hand holds a small pile of bitumen towards the camera

Last week, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund was the latest financial institution to split away from Canadian oil companies – citing their unacceptable greenhouse gas emissions as the reason why.

More and more investors and major financial institutions — from Sweden’s central bank to the world’s largest asset manager, Blackrock — have shifted away from investing in Alberta’s fossil fuel industry.

Despite what these global trends signal about the future of oil and gas in Canada, the federal government has announced several measures aimed at supporting companies in the sector.

…The government is aware of the widespread public opposition to measures that protect polluters, not people. They have been careful to lead with concerns on climate, and kept some of the details hidden.

There’s no denying we need a serious plan to support and transition workers in sectors hit hard by the pandemic, including the oil and gas sector. But bailing out struggling oil companies being abandoned by the private sector won’t achieve this.

Over the next month, we’ll be digging into the measures announced by the federal government. But first, let’s start with why bailing out oil and gas is a financial bad idea.

The 4 programs funnelling cash to oil and gas (so far)

  • $1.7 billion for cleaning up orphan and inactive oil and gas wells:

The bulk of this will go to cleaning up inactive wells in Alberta. Inactive wells are owned by viable companies who have neglected to pay the clean-up costs of their operations for decades. While this will create jobs, it is something that industry should have been doing all along.

  • A $750-million Emissions Reduction Fund

Loans from this fund will go to help companies decrease their emissions, with a focus on methane emissions. But reducing methane is very cheap, and the government should not be giving loans to companies to comply with existing regulations.

  • Access to credit for small and medium-sized oil and gas companies, run through Export Development Canada (EDC) and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) (total loan money available unknown)

We sounded the alarm last month when changes were made to the law that governs EDC, Canada’s export credit agency, and pointed out that those changes would make it easier to funnel billions more towards domestic oil and gas operations – without public scrutiny.

  • Access to the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF)  (total loan money available unknown)

This loan program isn’t available only to the oil and gas industry, but the sector is one of the primary targets. We’re waiting to hear more about the conditions that will be imposed on these loans to know if they will be strict enough to really align with Canada’s climate commitments.

Ministers have refused to attach price tags to the two credit packages, saying they will be driven by industry demand. Until we have more details, there is no way to know that this isn’t exactly the bailout industry wanted.

CC BY SA 4 - Shhewitt/Wikimedia Commons

Reasons to say goodbye: why Canada should not be bailing out oil and gas

This crisis has made evident the dangers of tying our economy too closely to a boom-and-bust commodity. The tar sands are among the world’s more expensive and carbon-polluting sources of oil – meaning they are the first to lose out when crashes happen and as countries transition away from fossil fuels.

But that’s not the only reason why this isn’t a good recovery strategy for Canada.

Bailing out oil mostly funnels money out of the country

Who are we actually keeping afloat when we bailout the oil and gas industry? A new investigative report shows more than 70 per cent of oil sands production is owned by investors and shareholders outside of Canada.

Before COVID, oil companies were shedding jobs as fast as they could – not creating new ones

Workers are among the first costs shed by oil and gas companies looking to save cash, preferring automation wherever possible. Despite growing production since 2014, an estimated 53,000 oil and gas workers in Alberta have lost their jobs from 2014 to 2019. And these jobs are gone for good as fewer and fewer employees are needed with rapid changes in technology, the growth of automation and other labour-saving efficiencies.

Coupled with the drop in demand for oil and gas, the industry isn’t in any position to hire new workers, which means they won’t help much with post-pandemic economic recovery.

In comparison, Canada’s clean energy sector is growing faster than the rest of the economy and will employ 559,400 Canadians by 2030—in jobs like insulating homes, manufacturing electric buses, or maintaining wind farms. In fact, there are already 50 per cent more jobs in clean energy in Canada than in oil and gas and mining combined.

Public royalties and taxes collected keep going down – even as production increases

Taxpayers aren’t getting much in return for bailing out the oilpatch. Royalty revenue and corporate taxes from the sector have plummeted – despite growth in production.

Graph credit: The Tyee:

Providing loans to an industry struggling to access credit is a throwing good money after bad

Even before COVID-19 showed up, and Saudi Arabia and Russia started a price war, the oil and gas business was losing easy access to capital markets. There’s a reason why these companies can’t get loans from private lenders – many of them won’t be able to pay these loans back.

A recent report shows how risky a proposition it is to provide loans to the sector. AIMCo, the Alberta Investment Management Corporation, has invested more than $1.1 billion dollars in the sector – and every publicly traded company that AIMCo has invested in has seen its share price fall.  AIMCo is likely to lose large sums of money on these unwise investments. Now the federal government is taking a similarly risky bet – one that taxpayers are being asked to cover.

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Canada has better options

Canada should focus on major public investments in a just transition rather than on bailouts to companies that won’t survive a long period of low oil and gas prices and serious global action to deal with climate change.

Going forwards, governments across Canada have a decision: continue to recklessly double down on the boom-bust roller coaster of the fossil fuel industry or chart a path to a genuinely healthier, more resilient and more equitable future through a just recovery.


By Many Calculations, LNG Is a Fail for BC: Report

The math for liquefied natural gas is bad on emissions, revenues, jobs, even offsetting coal in China, finds a new study.


Go figure. BC NDP Premier John Horgan announcing in 2018 a $40-billion investment by the consortium LNG Canada in its Kitimat terminal for processing and export. The project will push emissions from oil and gas production past the province’s 2050 target by 160 per cent. Photo: BC Government.

David Hughes, one of the nation’s foremost energy analysts, has a simple message for the governments of British Columbia and Canada when it comes to advocating for LNG projects.

“Do the math.”

Hughes has parsed the numbers and they don’t add up on methane emissions, climate change targets, resource royalties, job benefits or even basic economics.

“The math is clear,” says Hughes, whose latest 57-page report on LNG exports, published by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, highlights a long pipeline of damning figures.*

Emissions targets: Won’t LNG help hit them? The numbers say no

Hughes tabulated revenue from taxes, royalties and land sales and found they were all declining despite record production since 2005.

Solar Panels Are More Efficient Than You’ve Heard. This Material Could Make Them Even Better.

Today’s typical silicon solar panels operate at around 22 percent efficiency, but a new crystalline material called perovskite could soon raise the solar efficiency bar much further

Image: Grist / K. Y. Cheng / South China Morning Post via Getty Images

By Maddie Stone

Renewable energy has been on the defensive recently. Following the release of Planet of the Humans, the controversial new climate change documentary executive produced by Michael Moore, fossil fuel–backed climate denial groups are bashing wind and solar power with renewed vigor, regurgitating the film’s flawedancient talking points about the supposed poor performance and unreliability of these energy sources.

Those talking points include the assertion that solar power is wildly inefficient, something director Jeff Gibbs demonstrates by visiting a solar farm in Michigan where photovoltaic panels convert “just under 8 percent” of the energy in sunlight to electricity. But that efficiency rating is, as the photovoltaic-focused publication PV Magazine puts it, “from another solar era”: Today’s typical silicon solar panels operate at around 22 percent efficiency. And a new crystalline material called perovskite could soon raise the solar efficiency bar much further.

Solar photovoltaic cells — the individual units that form a solar panel, like the shingles on a roof — are wafer-like devices made of materials called semiconductors that are capable of converting sunlight to electrical energy. But even the best semiconductors only capture a fraction of the light that strikes them. Sunlight spans a wide range of wavelengths, and depending on the properties of the semiconductor and the design of the cell, some proportion of that light is reflected, some passes through, and some is absorbed but converted into heat before the energy can be put to use. Designing new solar cells that convert a larger fraction of incoming sunlight into electrical energy, or that have a higher conversion efficiency in solar power parlance, is one of the most active areas of solar research today.

Perovskites first attracted the interest of the solar community a little over a decade ago, when scientists discovered this particular class of semiconductors has an outstanding ability to convert sunlight to energy. Today, perovskites are at the center of an effort to develop a new generation of thin-film solar cells that are cheaper than, and around four times as efficient as, the solar farm Gibbs visits in Planet of the Humans. The field is moving fast: In late April, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory announced it will be forming a U.S. Manufacturing of Advanced Perovskites Consortium (US-MAP) to accelerate the development of perovskite-based technologies.

According to US-MAP director Joseph Berry, the consortium will allow government researchers, academics, and private companies to pool resources and brainpower in order to tackle the biggest hurdle facing the commercialization of perovskite solar cells: Making these soft, easily degraded materials more durable.

“That’s where the challenge for this technology is,” Berry told Grist.

Perovskite refers to any compound that shares the same crystal structure as the mineral perovskite, also known as calcium titanate. The perovskites the solar industry is interested in aren’t mined from the Earth, but cooked up in labs. Inside these synthetic, or “hybrid,” perovskites, a mix of organic compounds, metals, and halides (reactive elements that include chloride, bromide, and iodide) sub in for calcium and titanium in the crystal lattice. Because of their unique structure and chemical composition, hybrid perovskites have a superpower: They’re remarkably good at absorbing sunlight. “They are kind of awesome in terms of their power conversion efficiency,” Berry said.

While silicon solar cells have a maximum potential efficiency of around 29 percent, a single perovskite layer can theoretically achieve efficiencies of closer to 33 percent. And by synthesizing perovskites that are sensitive to different parts of the solar radiation spectrum and stacking them to create a tandem cell, the efficiency can be boosted further — potentially above 40 percent, said Jao Van De Lagemaat, who directs the chemistry and nanoscience center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“That’ll take an enormous amount of engineering,” Van De Lagemaat said. But some researchers have already demonstrated that devices with two layers of perovskites are more efficient than a single perovskite solar cell, he said. Traditional silicon cells can be made more efficient by adding perovskites, too.

Not only are perovskites inherently better at harvesting sunlight than silicon, it’s potentially cheaper to mass-produce solar cells that rely on them. While silicon cells are manufactured via a complex process that involves purifying silicon from quartz in a high-temperature furnace, perovskites can be fabricated at low temperatures using far less energy, from cheap and readily available ingredients. Companies are already working on a variety of low-cost techniques for applying perovskites to a supporting surface, like a piece of glass, to turn that surface into a thin-film solar cell. These include inkjet printers, perovskite-based sprays, and roll-to-roll manufacturing techniques similar to those used for newspaper printing.

But despite all their appeal, you can’t buy a perovskite solar panel to put on your roof just yet. The reason? Easy-to-make perovskites are also easy to unmake.

“The material itself intrinsically is not stable,” said Letian Dou, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Purdue University.

Perovskites dissolve in water, and they don’t hold up well under heat — both of which are a problem if you’re trying to manufacture a device to function atop a roof for decades. When a solar panel is heated by the sun, Dou says, its temperature can rise as high as 160 degrees F. At those temperatures, ions inside perovskites move around very quickly, causing the molecular structure to degrade. Even at room temperature, some “ion migration” can occur, creating instabilities in the material.

However, emerging research suggests perovskites can be stabilized by tweaking the chemical recipe. Recently, Dou and his colleagues doped perovskites with a rigid molecule called a ligand, allowing the material to remain stable at temperatures of up to 212 degrees F. The research, published last month in Nature, is preliminary — the tests were done at the lab scale, and on timescales of days, not decades — but it points to a “promising direction” for making commercially ready perovskites, Dou says. In a March study published in Science, scientists at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory made perovskites using three halide elements instead of the usual two, and found that the material degraded less than 4 percent after 1,000 hours of continuous operation in sunny conditions.

Berry says that when the Department of Energy (DOE) first started investigating perovskites in solar applications back in 2013, “lifetimes were measured on the order of hours, maybe tens of hours. And we’ve made a three orders of magnitude change in that. But the challenge is to make another couple of orders of magnitude change.”

The new US-MAP consortium aims to accelerate these efforts by enabling private companies, government researchers and academics to share new ideas and research facilities, and by encouraging them to join forces to conduct more ambitious tests. While all of the founding organizers are bringing their own research funds to the table, the consortium plans to seek additional funding from federal agencies like the DOE, as well as various state and local government programs and industry partners.

“The idea is we want to sort of band together,” Van De Lagemaat said. “There is quite a bit of research that can be done collectively that doesn’t really impact each individual company’s special sauce, but that really helps bring the entire area forward.”

Some of US-MAP’s commercial partners are already thinking about how to get the first perovskite solar panels out into the wild. Swift Solar, a California startup founded in 2017, is planning to stack two different layers of perovskites in tandem to create lightweight, high-efficiency solar cells that initially will be marketed for mobile applications like drones, satellites, and the lighting and air conditioning systems on trucks. Swift Solar co-founder Kevin Bush says vehicles are a good place for the first generation of perovskite solar panels to shine, both because portability is at a premium and because mobile markets “might only need five to 10 years’ stability, and it’s just a lot easier to promise that” right now.

“I think it’s nice to have markets that are initially not that demanding” in terms of longevity, Bush said, “so we can prove the technology out more.”

Van De Lagemaat doesn’t think perovskites will ever replace silicon wholesale in the solar power world. But he does think they will come to play “a very large role in the power market,” partly because rising solar efficiency and manufacturing improvements have caused the price of solar power to fall dramatically in recent years. While this price drop is good for consumers, it also means there’s less money to invest back into new silicon solar factories, which are expensive to build. Technologies that require less up-front capital investment, like perovskites, might ultimately be necessary to build the amount of solar power the world needs in the coming decades, he says.

If that hunch is correct, Planet of the Humans’ already outdated criticism of solar efficiency will soon feel prehistoric.


It’s the Economy Stupid, and It Needs A Green New Deal

Lead image: Thanks to Morning Brew and Unsplash

Winning the election may be the easiest task Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have to accomplish over the next several years. Governing, however, is another matter. In both cases, climate policy has a prominent role to play. Will a President Biden be able to do what Obama didn’t—put the nation on a path to sustainability?

It’s hardly a revelation to say that the outcome of the 2020 elections—for the presidency and Congress—are of historical importance in the nation’s fight against Earth’s warming and the transition to a sustainable economy.

The election of Donald Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment. If his administration’s assault on 100 environmental regulations were not bad enough, there is the time lost in moving to slow the rate of Earth’s temperature rise and helping cities and farm communities adapt to the changes wrought by it.

Climate-related issues in previous presidential election years would rank high on voter priority lists at the beginning of each cycle only to be overshadowed by issues or circumstances thought more pressing. IT WAS THE ECONOMY STUPID—for the last three election cycles.

If it wasn’t the economy, then it could have been healthcare or terrorism or almost anything but the environment. In 2016, the environment barely earned a mention by either candidate during the campaign.

A Gallup poll early in the 2016 cycle found that 62 percent of voters thought the federal government was doing too little to protect the environment. A later survey by the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, found that a record number of Americans believed the climate was changing and that humans bore some responsibility for it.

Despite these numbers, the environment ended up near the bottom of the voter priority lists in 2016. (Figure 1) But that wasn’t the worst of it—not by a long shot.

According to the Environmental Voter Project, over ten million registered environmental voters never showed up at their polling places. According to other data, fewer than 80 percent of Sanders’s primary voters cast their ballots for Clinton, while 12 percent actually voted for Trump. In an election that was determined by 100,000 votes spread across three swing states, those numbers mattered.


Prior to the pandemic, primary voters from Iowa to South Carolina—at least the Democrats—had climate at or very near the top of their priority lists. Were this year’s election cycle like those that came before it, it could be expected that climate would once again be elbowed down towards the bottom of voter and candidate priority lists.

This year’s national election cycle is not like those that came before, and climate remains a priority of voters and candidates alike and is in little danger of being ignored. I can say this with a very high degree of confidence and for good reasons.First, there has been a seismic shift in the minds of Americans—Republicans and Democrats—about climate change and its impact on their communities. Better yet, the Pew Research Center just released the results of a recent survey indicating that the COVID-19 contagion has done nothing to dampen climate concerns and the need for substantive government action.


Those surveyed (58 percent) also believe that to effectuate a consumer shift towards renewables will require government regulation. Far fewer (39 percent) felt that the private sector could do this on its own.

Although climate remains a highly-charged partisan issue, Republicans have been showing a greater willingness to accept what the scientists are saying about the causes and consequences of Earth’s warming. Rising climate concerns in the minds of young Republicans have become so well-documented that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been pressuring his caucus to stop denying climate science and start proposing some of their own solutions to the problem.

Although Republican and Democratic climate-related proposals differ dramatically, bipartisan support for some things can be found. According to Pew’s May survey, initiatives like tree planting and taxing carbon make the list of actions on which partisans can agree. (Figure 3)


What’s different about this year than election cycles gone by is how climate change has become a part of the dialogue about most of the issues that ail society today. Whether the discussion is about a post-pandemic economic recovery plan or systemic racism—climate is there. In debates about mutual security between NATO allies—climate is there.

In Trump’s speeches and tweets warning America of Democratic totalitarianism and the eco-fascism of a progressive squad of Congressional women of color—climate change is there in the guise of the Green New Deal. Even if the Democrats wanted to leave climate change and the need to transition the nation to a low-carbon economy out of political debates, Mr. Trump wouldn’t let them.

Although Trump views climate change as just another Democratic hoax and wind energy systems as a cause of cancer, most Americans understand that Earth’s warming is a problem. One that needs to be addressed and that the solutions can and should be an integral part of a post-pandemic economy. To solve the climate problem is to contribute to the solutions of multiple other issues.

Climate solutions are in the mix, whether reducing the health risks of at-risk communities of color, creating new jobs for workers in the fossil fuel sector whose jobs are lost to the greater competitiveness of solar and wind or adapting communities to the realities of rising ocean levels. Contributing to voter understanding of the cost and benefits of defending the nation against the ravages of climate change is the shift towards sustainability going on within the private sector.

Should Biden win the election, he will be the first president in US history to have been swept into office—at least in part—on a green wave.  Yes, but can he govern green?

Why does there always have to be a “but”?

Things can always change, but as of today, it appears that Trump will be “land-slid” out of office in November. A Biden landslide could carry with it Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate.

Once sworn into office, President Biden can be expected to act within hours to countermand all of Trump’s anti-climate executive orders and directives. But—any regulation considered final could only be rescinded or revised by going through another rulemaking, which could take up to several years. That is assuming no legal challenges from red states and impacted industries and companies—a big assumption at best. Of the 100 climate-related regulations targeted by the Trump administration’s 66 have been completed with 34 pending.

To have any chance of slowing the rate of Earth’s warming and adapting communities to the changes already underway, a sweeping integrated environment, energy, and economic plan is required. But–it need not be the exact plan proposed by Representative Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) in 2018.

Within recent months and weeks, Democrats in the House have put forward several legislative proposals that certainly meet many of the requirements of a climate-wise and just economy. The proposed plans include the CLEAN Futures Act, the Invest in America Act, and the roadmap of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

In addition to the works of Congressional Democrats, multiple Democratic, progressive, community, and labor groups all have climate plans or plan criteria that can be turned into sweeping legislation. Among the groups are Climate Power 2020Evergreen Action, the climate policy task force of the Biden and Sanders campaigns, Data for Progress, the BlueGreen Alliance, and the NAACP.

The Democratic capture of the White House and Congress could greatly improve the chances of a broad-based climate plan being enacted within the two-year term of the 117th Congress. But—the last time the Democrats controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the most comprehensive legislation in decades, never made it to President Obama’s desk for signature. In fact, the proposed law, popularly referred to as the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, never made it onto the Senate floor. Although passing the House under the leadership of Speaker Pelosi, it was stopped in its tracks by Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV).

Things are different now. Climate remains a top-tier voter issue, even surviving the onslaught of a global pandemic and the tweetered taunting of President Trump. Many Republicans—both those in the establishment and on college campuses—support policies like those in Waxman-Marky. Recent Democratic proposals allow for carbon taxation, as well as other popular bi-partisan measures like trillions of trees and stricter fuel efficiency standards. All that, and more is true.

But—should Biden be elected and the Democrats capture Congress they will owe a debt to a very diverse set of voters including Democrats and independents of every political color and persuasion–along with many traditional moderate and conservative Republicans who just couldn’t take Mr. Trump and perhaps Senators McConnell (R-KY), Lindsey (R-SC), Collins (R-ME)and Ernst (R-IA) anymore.

What’s the likelihood that all of those to whom Mr. Biden will be beholden could possibly get along with each other within a coalition government? After the 2018 midterm elections and well into the current primary season, Democrats had trouble enough getting along with themselves.

With raging contagions and culture wars, our country is a much more conflicted place than in 2016 or 2018. Is primal dislike of the chaos wrought by the Trump presidency and growing recognition that climate change is real and government needs to step-up enough to foster the compromise that will be required to pass legislation as complicated as an integrated energy, environment, and economic plan? It has never been done in US history.

Is Biden the man for the time or just the fortunate beneficiary of it? I wish I knew.

But–what I do know is that in America anything is possible.


By Joel Stronberg,


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