Thirty years after Siege of Kanehsatà:ke, Sqilxw peace runner says ‘we’re still fighting’

The 1990 siege began when the Town of Oka proposed an expansion to a local golf course and the development of condominiums on Mohawk territory that was never ceded, and included sacred burial grounds. The Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke set up a roadblock in the Pines to protest the expansion of the golf course.

In the summer of 1990, Anna Tonasket, a Sqilxw woman, joined over 70 Okanagan Nation members in the Run for Peace. It travelled from the Okanagan to Oka, Que., and those who made it to their final destination ran for six weeks.

Their journey was in response to and during the 1990 Siege of Kanehsatà:ke, also known as the Oka Crisis, a 78-day stand-off that began on July 11. It was between the Kanien’kehá:ka (People of the Flint, or commonly known as Mohawk people) of Kanehsatà:ke, the Quebec police and the Canadian military over a land dispute in Oka.

Now, Tonasket reflects back on the past 30 years and explains that First Nations people are still fighting.

“Unfortunately, things haven’t changed, you know, our people are still fighting the fight. The crisis was 30 years ago, but our people have been fighting for hundreds of years,” Tonasket says.

“And we’re still, it’s 2020, and we’re still fighting, you know, for recognition and acknowledgement, you know, as the First Peoples on Turtle Island.”

The 1990 siege began when the Town of Oka proposed an expansion to a local golf course and the development of condominiums on Mohawk territory that was never ceded, and included sacred burial grounds. The Kanien’kehá:ka of Kanehsatà:ke set up a roadblock in the Pines to protest the expansion of the golf course.

The Kanien’kehá:ka of Kahnawà:ke also showed their support by blockading the Mercier Bridge. On July 11, 1990 the militarized Sûreté du Québec (SQ) police was dispatched to raid the blockade on the road in the Pines, using tear gas, grenades, and began firing bullets. In the end, Cpl. Marcel Lemay was fatally wounded.

This sparked a 78-day standoff between the Kanien’kehá:ka and the militarized SQ and military, who were sent in by the government to the community of Kanehsatà:ke. Nations from across Turtle Island showed their support, by creating their own blockades, and many travelling to Kanehsatà:ke. The expansion was eventually cancelled, and the land was purchased by the federal government, but the land dispute was never resolved.

They continue, “In many ways, the situation in both of our communities remains the same. Our ancestral lands still face theft and dispossession: our traditional governments de-legitimatized [sic] by colonial created political entities by the Government of Canada and Quebec.”

As the commemoration took place this past Saturday, Tonasket, a member of the Okanagan Indian Band and Penticton Indian Band, remembers vividly why she took part in the run.

“The Okanagan to Oka Run for Peace was a way for us to support our Mohawk brothers and sisters,” she explains.

“It had gotten back to our community that they were blockading their community trying to stop the golf course from going through, digging up their ancestral burial ground.”

“We decided that we wanted to support. So the Penticton Indian Band, along with several other Syilx Bands, erected blockades into their community as a show of solidarity for the Mohawks. So basically, that’s, it was in support and solidarity, and to bring awareness about what was going on within the Mohawk territory.”

Tonasket, who was 28 years old at the time, was originally scheduled to be a checkpoint cook on the route. She was asked to be a runner instead after some Mohawks reached out.

“They were calling, you know, with regard to our people running across the country, with the feather to present to their community,” Tonasket explains.

“One of the questions that was asked was, ‘Where are your women?’ Because at that time, there were, all the runners were male. And so they said, you know, you have to have your women with you. And so Arnie Louie and, I believe it was Jeannette Armstrong, approached me and asked if I would join the run.”

The runners departed in early August. Shortly after running the first two kilometres, Tonasket says they pulled over and she received another request.

“I get into this rented car with them and the band pulls out and, and then I’m told, ‘Oh, well you need to be the female spokesperson for the group,’” she says.

Tonasket explains that she was tasked with going ahead of the runners and securing lodging, food and being a spokesperson to the media as they crossed various territories.

“It was exciting, it was scary at times, it was humbling,” says Tonasket. “There were times of, you know, you could just feel the pride in our runners.”

But the runners were also met with racism, discrimination and opposition for running, she adds.

“We had people yelling and swearing at us, and some places wouldn’t serve us or you could, you know, if we had to pull in and get gas, there was, you could just feel the animosity,” says Tonasket. “And so we were very clear as a group that no one went anywhere by themselves for any reason.”

A delegation of Kanien’kehá:ka women met them in Regina, Sask., says Tonasket, and they all continued east towards Kanehsatà:ke.

“There was Donna Goodleaf, and then there were four ambassadors, young women,” she explains.

Donna Kahérakwas Goodleaf, too, remembers the run well, and the significance of meeting the runners in Regina.

“Well, from what I can remember, I think you have to put it into context that the Okanagan Confederacy, the Okanagan-Shuswap Confederacy, we have a spiritual alliance with each other, so they have a spiritual alliance with our people, with the Haudenosaunee Confederacy,” says Goodleaf.

A citizen of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation, Goodleaf is now the director of decolonizing curriculum and pedagogy at Concordia University. She says coming together was “fulfilling a spiritual relationship.”

“Between both of our Nations of people, confederacies of people from the Eastern Door, and the Okanagan and Shuswap represent the Western Door. And so bringing our people together to run together, across Turtle Island was quite powerful,” Goodleaf explains.

Most of the runners, including Tonasket, finished their part of the run in Ottawa, Ont. as they got word from some Mohawks that it was too dangerous to continue, she says.

“We got to Ottawa and we were at the [Assembly of First Nations] building,” says Tonasket. “That’s where we had spent the night, and it was while we were there that we received word that it was quite dangerous that the Mohawk people, you know, were quite fearful for the lives of the runners.”

The eagle feather and bundle continued on with a smaller delegation and made it safely to Kanehsatà:ke, she explains, where they were treated “very, very well” by the Mohawk people.

As the Rotinonhsión:ni concluded in their press statement, “The summer of 1990 serves as a reminder that the Kanien’kehà:ka are willing to defend their land and protect their people, by any means necessary. The same holds true, 30 years later.”

In fact, Tonasket says that the original runners and families had been planning to return to Kanehsatà:ke this past Saturday for the anniversary of the peace run, but that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everything just kind of went out the window,” she says.

But as the original run lasted over six weeks, lifelong bonds were built.

“The friendships that have remained, I think amongst the majority of the people who participated back in 1990, it’s still as strong today as it was there 30 years ago,” says Tonasket.

“And sadly, we’ve lost, you know, both of our spiritual leaders and many of our original runners…so always, you know, keeping them and their families in our thoughts, especially, around July 11.”

It wasn’t only friends that were gained during the Run for Peace, says Tonasket, but a strength that powers on today.

“It was a very powerful time, I think in our people’s history, it really brought out people’s compassion and empathy. And it also, I think, was a huge display of the resilience that our people have when we stand up and we stand up together.”


‘Grim work’: Climate-change clock ticking on world’s polar bears

Reproductive failure inevitable for some bears by 2060s

A polar bear walks along the ice floe in the Franklin Strait in the Northwest Passage on July 23, 2007. The climate change clock is ticking on the world’s polar bears and a group of scientists say they’ve determined when their time will run out. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The climate-change clock is ticking on the world’s polar bears and a group of Canadian and U.S. scientists say they’ve determined when that time will run out.

The researchers used data on shrinking sea ice and detailed information on what the bears need to stay healthy and rear cubs to project the survival odds for 13 of the world’s 19 bear populations through to the end of the century.

“It’s very grim work,” said Peter Molnar, a University of Toronto biologist who is the lead author on the study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change. “The sad part is that we have known for a very long time what is going to happen.”

What hasn’t been studied — until now — is when dramatic declines are likely to begin.

To determine those timelines, the researchers weighed what the bears need to live, reproduce and rear cubs against what their environment offers them.

“How long can a bear last on its energy stores?” Molnar asked. “What are some thresholds for a population beyond which reproduction and survival would decline?

“By using these new tools we can put numbers on when to expect these effects.”

Dwindling access to food

Polar bears depend on rich, fatty seals to get them through long periods of fasting, and they can only hunt that prey from sea ice — a platform rapidly shrinking due to climate change.

Foods on land, such as bird eggs, just don’t have enough calories to keep the bears going over the long term.

“There’s simply not enough energy on land in the places where bears live,” Molnar said.

The researchers had enough information on projected ice conditions to forecast for eight of the 14 Canadian bear populations. They found cubs will be the first to go.

A mama bear and her cub near Churchill, Man. (Elisha Dacey/CBC)


Even if the world were to manage to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, bears in northern Ontario on the south coast of Hudson Bay will likely have trouble raising new bears by the end of this decade.

Their cousins along the west coast of Hudson Bay would likely follow a year later and those in the southern Beaufort Sea a few years after that. By the early 2040s, bears in Davis Strait would join them.

Those four groups represent nearly a third of Canada’s total bear population. Cub-rearing problems for almost all the rest of them are considered likely to occur within similar timelines.

And that’s the optimistic take.

Under a business-as-usual scenario, reproductive failure would become inevitable for Hudson Bay and Davis Strait bears beginning in the 2060s. By the 2080s, it’s likely that adult bears in those regions would be starving to death.

“We all have physiological limits,” said Molnar.

A few populations — those in the northern Beaufort or Queen Elizabeth Islands — will probably be fine.

“With business-as-usual greenhouse gas emissions, polar bears are going to be gone from probably everywhere except the very High Arctic,” Molnar said.

He acknowledged the conclusions are based on assumptions — though well-researched — and mathematical models. But the group used the same approach to look backward and compared the results to data from the field.

In every case, the model results agreed. Field studies in western Hudson Bay found bears healthy and fat through the 1980s, then with declining reproductive success and body condition into the late 1990s.

“That is exactly what our model predicts,” said Molnar. “The model captures the dynamics of the past.”

The information in the paper should be useful to polar bear managers in the years ahead. But Molnar hopes it will have a wider impact than that.

“My hope is that showing how grim and dire the situation really is will emphasize one more time how urgent the problem of dealing with climate change is,” he said.

“We know what needs to be done.”


Global Warming Is Driving Polar Bears Toward Extinction, Researchers Say

By century’s end, polar bears worldwide could become nearly extinct as a result of shrinking sea ice in the Arctic if climate change continues unabated, scientists said.

Water, water everywhere? Some question true costs of Sask’s $4B irrigation plan

Hydro power losses, damage to Sask River Delta among items not included in government budget, say experts

Questions are being raised about the Saskatchewan government’s $4-billion plan to expand agricultural irrigation. Experts say it could end up costing taxpayers far more, and the benefits are not guaranteed. (Don Somers/CBC)

The Saskatchewan government’s proposed $4-billion irrigation expansion is the most expensive project in the province’s history, but some say it will cost taxpayers billions more and may not bring the promised benefits.

CBC News has interviewed more than two dozen agricultural economists, hydraulic engineers, computer modelling experts, farmers, conservationists and those living downstream, as well as federal, provincial and First Nations politicians. What emerges is a story at odds with the government’s surprise announcement earlier this month.

Critics say the government has forgotten — or is refusing to acknowledge — basic financial, legal and environmental principles.

“It’s not something that seems realistic,” said Saman Razavi, lead researcher on a team at the University of Saskatchewan’s Global Institute for Water Security. “They don’t seem to be mindful of all the issues.”

Solomon Carriere and his family have lived in the Saskatchewan River Delta for generations. He and his wife, Renee, say the provincial government’s $4-billion irrigation expansion in southern regions will devastate the delta, one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in North America. (Submitted by Solomon and Renee Carriere)


Government officials and farm groups say the project will change the face of agriculture, will help mitigate the expected droughts and floods brought by climate change, and will easily pay for itself. They also say it will create 2,500 construction jobs, allow farmers to grow cucumbers, potatoes and other high-value crops, and attract big food processors to the region.

“There’s a substantial return on that $4 billion to both [provincial and federal] levels of government from taxation in the first 50 years, for sure,” said Lyle Stewart, a former Saskatchewan agriculture minister and one of the project’s leads.. “And there’s a slow payback on this, you know — I recognize that. We all do. But it’s a payback that will be there.”

Part of the plan includes improving the water supply for people in the Moose Jaw-Regina region, but the vast majority of the cost is for irrigation.

It’s those costs — and the revenue projections — that have Razavi and others shaking their heads. They say the government’s math is wrong.

Razavi’s team is pioneering the use of artificial intelligence and other modelling methods to predict the economic, engineering and environmental results of altering water bodies. He said no one from his unit was consulted for the project.

Questions about money, viability, strategy

Razavi did his own analysis. According to his data, the project will cause a five to 10 per cent drop in water levels at Lake Diefenbaker and in the South Saskatchewan River. The drop could be as much as 50 per cent in years of drought.

That means at least $2.5 billion in lost power production from the Gardiner Dam site and other stations downstream over the life of the project, he said.

The Saskatchewan River Delta is one of the largest inland deltas in the world, home to large populations of moose, elk, beaver, muskrat and endangered species like lake sturgeon. The wetlands also store carbon dioxide equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million vehicles. (Submitted by Solomon and Renee Carriere)


“The project looks great on paper, but there are many other factors,” Razavi said.

Fellow U of S professor Suren Kulshreshtha said the project could work, but he agreed that the $4 billion is only a starting point.

Kulshreshtha, who helped author a study of irrigation agriculture in the Qu’Appelle region, said the government has only cited costs for the infrastructure and hasn’t included the costs to subsidize farmers with transportation, marketing, equipment and water costs.

Financial carrots will also have to be dangled to attract processors.

“If they only provide water to the farmers and farmers grow crops and nothing else is done by the province, it may or may not happen,” he said.

Kulshreshtha mentioned Spudco, the previous government’s failed attempt to kick-start the Saskatchewan potato industry through another irrigation plan. He hopes everyone has learned from that experience.

“We had that experience,” he said. “People started planting all different kind of crops, but there was no transportation, no marketing, no other services being provided to the farmers. The farmers then turned back to the dry land crops. That’s not the purpose of the whole irrigation project.”

Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer says he’s forming a coalition of First Nations to fight the provincial government’s $4-billion irrigation plan. He says First Nations were not consulted on the project, as the Supreme Court of Canada has told governments they must do. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)


Others, such as the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, have noted there will also be interest payments on that $4 billion loan.

They also point to the Muskrat Falls hydro project in Newfoundland. The government there originally said it would cost $6 billion. Taxpayers have already spent $12 billion and it’s not completed yet.

As for the financial returns, there’s also no guarantee farmers will grow high-value crops in volumes sufficient to attract processors, Razavi said. In Alberta, only 17 per cent of irrigation is used for fruit and vegetables, according to Statistics Canada. The rest was sprayed on common field crops and hay.

The government doesn’t appear to know how many farmers are expected to use the new system, or what type of crops they might grow.

“The precise number is difficult to estimate with producers of varying size along the routes,” said Ron Podbielski of the government’s Water Security Agency.

Concerns over wildlife, consultation

Razavi and others say all costs — the power losses, the subsidies to farmers and processors, loan interest — need to be considered. Razavi said the government also needs to be more realistic about revenue.

“The economic benefits seem to be exaggerated,” he said.

The Saskatchewan government isn’t listing the true costs of its irrigation plan, say experts. They say hydro power losses alone from the Gardiner Dam site, pictured, and other stations could add billions to the price tag. (Don Somers/CBC)


The concerns aren’t just financial.

Solomon Carriere’s family has lived for generations near Cumberland House, Sask., in the Saskatchewan River Delta.
The delta is home to some of the most diverse plant and animal life in North America: moose, lynx, otter and half a million birds. The lush, swampy ecosystem stores more than 1.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS). That’s equivalent to the annual emissions of 300 million cars.

Carriere said a five to 10 per cent drop in water volumes would devastate the region, located several hundred kilometres downstream from the proposed irrigation sites.

“We’re scared about what that’s going to mean to the delta,” said Carriere, a world champion marathon canoeist. “I think we’re still part of Saskatchewan here, aren’t we? I think with such a big project, we feel quite left out. We always do, I guess.”

Cumberland House Cree Nation Chief Rene Chaboyer agrees. He said the government failed to consult First Nations, even though the Supreme Court of Canada has been clear that before a major infrastructure project begins, every attempt must be made to obtain free, prior and informed consent from affected First Nations. It’s commonly known as the duty to consult.

Chaboyer said he’s assembling a coalition of First Nations and will make his case to the government. He said legal action is a last resort, but he isn’t ruling it out.

“We depend on the delta to provide our people with natural products like fish, moose, ducks, medicine. We rely on the roots and what it provides for us,” Chaboyer said.

“This project doesn’t help anything. It’s just going to expedite the drying out of the delta and turn it into dry lands.”

The Saskatchewan River Delta is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems in North America. (Garth Lenz)


Environmental groups are also asking the province to hit the pause button. They want the federal government to step in, and plan to petition Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson.

Jordan Ignatiuk, of Nature Saskatchewan, and Gord Vaadeland of CPAWS say there are too many unanswered questions.

“There needs to be proper consultation. We’re going to be turning up the heat,” Vaadeland said.

Ignatiuk said this seems like old-style politicking in advance of the fall provincial election.

“I mean, it’s our government just looking to appease their rural voters to be able to [say], ‘Here’s a project that’s going to benefit agriculture,’ and everybody just turns around and says yep, that’s a great thing to do.” Ignatiuk said. “Then [they] vote for them again, as opposed to looking at the future impacts.

“What is the long-term effect of all this going to be?”


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.

Sask. government failed to consult First Nations on $4B irrigation plan, says FSIN

Courts have ordered governments to attempt to obtain ‘free, prior and informed’ consent before projects

Shell says UK can bring forward fossil fuel car sale ban to 2030

Europe’s biggest oil companies have been preparing for a slowdown in fuels demand, and are increasingly turning their attention to electricity production.

The ban can be brought forward to 2030 with the right policy and incentives.

London: Royal Dutch Shell Plc expects the U.K. can end the sale of gasoline and diesel vehicles in just a decade, as the nation attempts to eliminate emissions by the middle of the century.

The ban can be brought forward to 2030 with “the right policy and incentives,” Sinead Lynch, the head of oil giant Shell’s operations in Britain said on LinkedIn. That’s five years earlier than the deadline set by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February, and also beats the 2032 date that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said may be possible to achieve.

Johnson’s government is seeking to ban the sale of new cars powered by fossil fuels by the middle of the next decade as it seeks to ensure net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. That oil companies, which have been built on the back of demand for automobile fuels for over a century, are predicting the end of gasoline cars in the near future is a pivotal moment for the industry.

Europe’s biggest oil companies have been preparing for a slowdown in fuels demand, and are increasingly turning their attention to electricity production, primarily from renewable sources. Shell and rivals BP Plc and Total SA have all set their own net-zero emission targets.

Still, there are hurdles for the U.K. achieving the ban on oil-fueled car sales. The government needs to continue providing incentives to help customers use electric vehicles, Lynch said. Infrastructure for charging these needs to be built out, and investments are required in electricity networks to meet the extra demand, she said.


Bloomberg  July 18, 2020, 

Pandemic Threatens Decades of Women’s Labour Force Gains

COVID downturn sees job losses eclipse those of any other recession

Pandemic threatens decades of women's labour force gains

Canada has been roiled by a recession unlike any other – one distinguished not just by the overall magnitude of damage it has inflicted on the economy but by the specific, unprecedented blow it has dealt to women. In a matter of months, the COVID 19 pandemic knocked women’s participation in the labour force down from a historic high to its lowest level in over 30 years.

Canada has been roiled by a recession unlike any other – one distinguished not just by the overall magnitude of damage it has inflicted on the economy but by the specific, unprecedented blow it has dealt to women. In a matter of months, the COVID 19 pandemic knocked women’s participation in the labour force down from a historic high to its lowest level in over 30 years.

Beyond the strain these job losses have placed on families and individual women – who have borne the brunt of child-rearing responsibilities as schools and daycares close – their impact on Canada’s overall economic growth has been severe. The uneven and slow economic recovery in the second half of the year will leave Canada’s economy 5% smaller than before the crisis. With women’s employment recovering more slowly than men’s, it will likely have a more significant impact on the hit to GDP.

Worryingly, the outsized role women play in the industries hardest hit by this recession, together with ongoing uncertainties about availability of school and childcare in the fall mean this lost ground won’t easily be recovered. As our previous research highlighted, women’s increased participation in the labour market has provided an enormous lift to the economy’s performance. And this year’s recovery likely won’t be enough to restore women’s participation rate to pre-COVID levels – a factor that carries significant economic consequences. It is imperative that this proves a short-term diversion.

Key findings:

  • The pandemic has pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in three decades, with 1.5 million women losing their jobs in the first two months of the recession.
      • Women’s employment, which is dominant in the sectors hardest hit by the recession, has been slower to rebound as the economy reopens. Despite absorbing 51% of job losses in March and April, women accounted for just 45% of job gains in May and June as economic activity restarted.
      • Women are more likely to “fall out” of the workforce. Nearly half of newly unemployed women who lost their jobs between February and May (and one third who lost jobs between February and June) were terminated and did not seek work– putting them at higher risk of long term job-separation and future wage penalties.
      • Employment among women with toddlers or school aged children fell 7% between February and May compared to a decline of 4% among fathers of children the same age. Single mothers were even more significantly impacted, with employment among this cohort (with a toddler or school-aged child) down 12% from February to June (compared to a 7% decline among single fathers).
      • Women accounted for ~45% of the decline in hours worked over the downturn, yet will only account for ~35% of the recovery.

COVID’s impact on women’s work reverses the pattern of previous recessions

The asymmetrical impact of this recession on women’s employment stands in stark contrast to previous economic downturns. Indeed, in prior recessions, from the early 80s to the 2008 financial crisis, men were significantly more likely than women to be laid off. At the peak of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for men was over 2 and a half percentage points higher than that of women, a dynamic explained by the fact that the hardest hit industries were dominated by males. Moreover, women’s participation in the labour force rebounded with more vigour in 2009 – hitting its highest level at a time when the participation of men was declinin


In this downturn, the majority of job losses have taken place in female-dominated industries, including accommodation and food services, retail trade, educational services and health care and social assistance – though this story is evolving as the recession wears on. In March and April alone, three of the top five affected sectors were dominated by women, though later in April, as factories and job-sites halted or scaled-down operations, we began to see layoffs more evenly distributed between genders. In May and June, the majority of job creation took place in retail trade, construction, accommodation and food services, and manufacturing.

Considering the industries in which they are most likely to work together with full-time/part-time employment status, we can reasonably expect women to account for the majority of layoffs. And since they account for 56% of new unemployment between February and June, female representation in specific industries, together with their increased likelihood of working part-time, explain women’s higher vulnerability to job losses compared to males.

Meantime, women have been largely responsible for combatting the virus on the frontlines of hospitals and long term care homes, with roughly 80 per cent of employment in health care and social services drawn from their ranks.

Women shouldering the burden of childcare more likely to “fall out” of the labour force

Alongside the higher unemployment rate, an alarming trend has begun to surface: women are more likely than men to “fall out” of the labour force. Half of newly unemployed women who lost their jobs between February and May (and 32% between February and June) were terminated and were not actively seeking work. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to be actively seeking new jobs.

Several factors could explain this. First, retail and accommodation and food services – where women are dominant – are more likely to rebound gradually as the economic reopening plays out. Women working in these sectors know that the probability of finding a new position is quite low. Discouraged, they may opt to stay home and ride out the crisis.

By contrast, men working in goods-producing sectors (where over three quarters of those employed are male) are more likely to get called back to work once it is safe. This was exhibited in May when nearly half of job gains were allocated to the goods-producing sector. In fact, in May and June, the goods-producing sector accounted for 26% of new jobs despite the fact that this sector only represented 21% of layoff

A second, critical factor behind women dropping out of the labour force is motherhood. Given widespread uncertainty surrounding the format of children’s schooling in the fall (and the potential for a virtual/in-class blend), if mothers are unable to work remotely and have been laid off, they may hesitate to seek out new work while their child requires daytime supervision at home. Employment among mothers with toddlers or school-aged children fell by 7% between February and May while the decline in employment among fathers with children of the same age was 5%. In June, despite more mothers and fathers returning to work, the divergence persisted, with employment levels for fathers returning to near pre-crisis levels while levels for mothers still hovered 3% below February employment. Moreover, mothers whose youngest child was between the ages of 6 and 17 continued to experience a 5 ppt gap from fathers with children of the same age.

Single mothers were even more significantly impacted, with employment among this cohort (with a toddler or school-aged child) down 12% from February to June (compared to a 7% decline among single fathers).

Finally, the distribution of family income matters. Since only 29% of women in dual economic families are the primary earners, the majority of secondary-earner women may have to scale back their hours or pull out of the labour force altogether to manage additional family and household tasks.

Is the CERB encouraging women to opt out of the work force?

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit has been a key pillar of the federal government’s fiscal response to the pandemic. But its high income replacement rate for women means it may act to delay their return to work.

The CERB immediately grants applicants whose employment is directly impacted by COVID-19 with $2000 for a four-week period. Currently, recipients are able to utilize this benefit for up to 24 weeks. Since women, on average, work fewer hours and earn lower hourly wages than men, the income replacement rate of the CERB is much higher than for men.

High degree of uncertainty regarding structure of school reopenings

The structure of students’ return to school varies from province to province. Saskatchewan, a province with low levels of infection, plans to return to normalcy alongside Alberta and Quebec. British Columbia and New Brunswick have already allowed students to return part-time on an optional basis, and intend to have students return in September to a hybrid online and in-class model. The remaining provinces have laid out multiple scenarios, from full in-class instruction to alternate days and weeks with an online component. The trajectory these provinces take will be dependent on viral caseload and is largely uncertain.

Approximately 47% of female employees who were laid off between February and June typically earned $2000/month or less, meaning their income is fully replaced on the CERB. When we look at monthly CERB replacement rates from February to June, the replacement rate is consistently higher for women. The government reported that of the 8.25 million unique applications received for CERB between March and June, 48.4% were from women.

As a result, lower and middle-income mothers may be incentivized to stay home and care for their children while collecting CERB, rather than bearing the cost of daycare when centres reopen. And those mothers who are able to work from home will be likely to work fewer hours while juggling child care and Zoom meetings.

For women, regaining lost ground won’t be easy

It has taken several decades for women to garner enough heft in the labour market to finally bring economic equality within sight. Prior to the pandemic, women had become a force in this area like never before, earning 42% of household income.

The sheer size of the setback this pandemic has dealt to women’s labour force participation, together with the shape of the recovery so far, suggests a return to pre-COVID levels won’t be easy.

May and June marked the beginning of the gradual recovery, when provinces started entering phase 2 of re-opening, and non-essential businesses and services were given the green light to restart scaled back operations and capacities. In May, 290,000 jobs were created – but these were largely in the goods-producing sector, where male employment is dominant. In June, job gains of close to 1 million were more evenly distributed, however were insufficient to rebalance the labour market – meaning women still accounted for 56% of the jobs lost during the pandemic.

Assuming a gradual approach to re-opening and in the absence of a second wave, we expect employment to come in 2½% below pre-COVID-19 levels in Q4 – but the extent of the recovery varies from industry to industry. Employment in accommodation and food services, where women dominate, is still expected to be 19% below pre-COVID levels whereas employment in the male-dominated professional, scientific and technical services will likely finish the year off very close to where it was in February. Overall 500,000 jobs are at risk, predominantly in accommodation and food services, retail trade, and educational services which together make up half of at-risk jobs.

Certainly, this year’s recovery will not be enough to return women’s labour force participation to its pre-COVID trend – and GDP growth could be in jeopardy unless the hours worked by women picks up during the recovery.

The silver lining: WFH a viable option for women…

Despite the fact that women are more likely than men to become unattached to the labour force, women who are primary earners are more likely to be able to work from home than their male contemporaries. Only 38% of primary-earner males can work from home compared to 62% of primary-earner females. Moreover, half of single-earner women and unattached women and nearly half of single mothers are able to work from home.

…And education appeared to pay dividends at the onset of the crisis

What’s more, educated women with university degrees were more likely to hold onto their positions and ride out the crisis than their male contemporaries from February to May. The share of women aged 25 to 29 with a degree who were unemployed increased from 4.9% to 10.3% between February and May, whereas the share of men who were unemployed in the same age group increased to 11.6%. Women with degrees who were terminated were no more likely than males to fall out of the labour force. Aside from tenure, resilience is garnered through educational attainment, and women are more likely to reap these benefits in the face of the crisis. Interestingly enough, between May and June, the unemployment rate for men in this cohort fell to 8.7% whereas that of women grew to 10.8%. But growth in unemployment does not necessarily mean this cohort of women lost their jobs in May. In fact, it may well indicate that those educated females who had previously fallen out of the labour force are re-entering and searching for positions as the recovery progresses.


The challenges created by COVID-19 will persist until there is an effective treatment and to date, the labour market impact has weighed much more heavily on women. In the near term, policies to address childcare will be crucial to keeping women engaged in the workforce. Financial supports for childcare could provide some relief if they are coupled with increased availability. More flexible working arrangements across the board may also alleviate pressure on families forced to divvy up work and home responsibilities and promote more equitable sharing of childcare between men and women.

As we’ve noted previously, the benefits of women participating in the labour market equally with men would provide a lift to economic output of about $100 billion per year. COVID-19 has created a hole which will take a long time to fill – ensuring that women return to the labour market is critical to Canada’s recovery and ongoing success.

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Are Wealthy People Less Ethical?

Scientists say the rich are driven by greed and think they are above the law.

Luxury automobiles are parked outside the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco.

Luxury automobiles are parked outside the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco.undefined Getty Images

May 18, 2014— — Pity the rich. They drive their expensive cars with little respect for the law, they break the rules thinking they won’t have to face the consequences, and they even take candy from children.

Their unethical behavior, according to new research, is driven by the fact that they see nothing wrong with greed.

Psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley, have conducted seven studies involving nearly a thousand participants from college students to senior citizens indicating that the rich are, indeed, different from the rest of us.

Although the scientists concede that there are exceptions, “the really well-to-do have lost a little of their moral character,” psychologist Dacher Keltner, coauthor of a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a telephone interview.

Keltner, who led the research along with fellow psychologist Paul K. Piff, said his inbox has been jammed with feedback, mostly from working class citizens who say “it’s about time” someone paid attention to this problem.

“People are just feeling there’s an imbalance in our culture,” he said.

In one creative study, Piff and Keltner and several of their students positioned themselves at four-way-stop intersections in the San Francisco Bay area to see which cars ignored state law to yield to the first vehicle to reach the stop sign. The drivers could not see them as the participants ranked the vehicles on the basis of their value.

Drivers of expensive cars were four times more likely to cut off another vehicle and ignore the right-of-way than drivers of cheaper cars, the researchers found. The most flagrant offenders: Mercedes drivers.

In another experiment, 26 drivers of deluxe cars blasted through an intersection while ignoring a pedestrian who had entered the crosswalk, another violation of state law. No one driving a cheap car failed to yield. Some 426 cars were involuntary participants in these two experiments, and it’s worth noting that although prosperous drivers were more willing to break the law than working class drivers, about half the fancy cars yielded. So not all rich folks are jerks.

In laboratory experiments, participants were “primed” to think they were wealthy or poor. This is a technique used by many psychologists. If someone is told to think of people who are less fortunate than they are, their temporary mindset will make them believe they are well off, for example.

“Priming is based on the idea that ideas drive behaviors, and I think that’s true,” Keltner said. So someone who thinks he or she is better off than someone else is more likely to act like a wealthier person, according to many studies.

In one of the experiments, participants were asked to hold a jar of wrapped candies while the psychologist left the room. They were told the candies were for children in a nearby lab, but they could help themselves to some of the candy if they wanted to. Participants primed to think they were wealthy ate “significantly” more of the candy, knowing it was supposed to go to the children, than participants who thought they were poor.

In the final study, the researchers think they nailed the cause of such unethical behavior. No matter what their social or economic standing was, participants primed to think there’s nothing wrong with being greedy were more willing to cheat.

“There is this mental frame of mind when you feel like you are at the top,” Keltner said. “You think you are above the law, you think you can get away with stuff and you won’t have to deal with the consequences. That’s what that study demonstrates.”

His jammed mailbox also confirms that, he added.

“Police officers have told me that drivers of fancy cars often lecture them when they pull them over for a ticket,” he said. “And construction guys tell me often that if they work at a really wealthy home, it’s hard to get paid, which is absurd.”

Keltner’s main line of research is on human goodness, not greed. He turned to this subject because he wanted to understand why people so often do the wrong thing, like eating candy meant for children.

The research addresses widespread concern over class differences and inequalities in this country. Vast wealth is now held by a tiny minority of Americans while the middle class slips toward poverty, according to numerous surveys.

A few at the top are indeed generous, as evidenced by Bill Gates and others. But it’s hard to escape the fact that when so few have so much, and so many have so little, something is really wrong in America, Keltner said.

Incidentally, when it comes to social status, Keltner is near the top. He is a super-achiever in two areas reflecting status: He is highly educated and holds a prestigious job. And he’s hardly poor, but when it comes to vehicular status, he flunks.

He drives a 13-year-old Subaru, and his wife drives a 17-year-old Honda Civic.

What Does Net Zero Emissions Mean for Big Oil? Not What You’d Think

BP, Shell, and other companies say they’ll address climate change. But their pledges fall far short of what’s needed to meet global climate goals.

What Does Net Zero Emissions Mean for Big Oil? Not What You'd ...

Top Photo Credit: Michael Kodas/InsideClimate News

Bernard Looney, BP’s new chief executive, stood behind the podium in a London hotel in February and announced that the company would dramatically shift the way it did business.

Framed by a multi-hued green background, Looney described a transformation of BP’s structure and operations that would steer the oil giant to spend more on clean energy and less on fossil fuels. By 2050, he said, BP would achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, joining a growing list of governments and corporations committed to tackling climate change.

Much of the world saw BP as the problem, Looney said. Now it would become part of the solution.

“We have got to change, and change profoundly,” he told a room full of investors and journalists, “because the world is changing fast, and so are society’s expectations of us. But it is more than having to change. We want to change.”

BP CEO Bernard Looney speaks during an event in London on February 12, 2020, where he declared the company’s intentions to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

BP CEO Bernard Looney speaks during an event in London on February 12, 2020, where he declared the company's intentions to achieve "net zero" carbon emissions by 2050. Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

BP CEO Bernard Looney speaks during an event in London on February 12, 2020, where he declared the company’s intentions to achieve “net zero” carbon emissions by 2050. Credit: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Looney’s speech launched a rapid-fire game of one-upmanship among Europe’s largest oil and gas companies. Within three months, Total and Royal Dutch Shell had announced their own plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, building on previous pledges to increase spending on low-carbon energy sources like wind, solar and biofuels.

Two of their American counterparts, ExxonMobil and Chevron, have also announced goals to reduce climate-warming pollution, although much more modest ones.

But many of the pledges are misleading, and misrepresent how much the oil giants are changing. Most glaring is that none of the companies has committed to cut its oil and gas output over the next decade, the simplest and most reliable way—one might say the only way—to cut emissions, and a must if the world is to avoid dangerous warming. In fact, the stated net-zero “ambitions,” as the companies generally call them, do not require that greenhouse gas emissions fall to zero at all. They rely instead either partly or largely on capturing or canceling out these emissions with unproven technologies and reforestation at a questionable scale.

Meanwhile, through industry associations the companies have continued to lobby against policies that would hasten a shift away from oil and gas: All the companies, for example, retain membership in the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has lobbied against incentives for electric vehicles, supported the Trump administration’s rollback of methane regulations and backed expanded drilling in the Arctic.

“There’s really nobody in this industry planning for a true transition away from fossil fuels,” said Andrew Logan, senior director of oil and gas at Ceres, which works with investors to advocate for sustainable business practices.

“To what degree are these scenarios truly independent thought exercises and to what degree are they just attempts to rationalize a strategy that the companies are kind of trapped in by decisions that were made years or even decades ago?” he said. “I think it’s pretty clear that for a lot of companies it’s more the latter.”

What the Fine Print Says

The big oil companies’ pledges to help address climate change come as the petroleum industry is under unprecedented assault.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic crashed the oil market, investors were pressing companies to adapt, as returns lagged and renewable energy became an increasingly appealing alternative.

Climate activists and local governments have targeted oil companies with lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages for their alleged deception about climate change. National governments, particularly in Europe, have adopted policies to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions and shift away from oil and gas.

The pledges to eliminate climate-warming emissions are an attempt to fight off this onslaught, and they sound impressive. But the fine print shows they are much weaker than they seem. In fact, the pledges don’t require that the companies reduce their emissions by any specific amount, or even, in some cases, at all.

What the Big 5 Oil Giants Say They'll Do for Climate

The vast majority of the emissions from oil come from fuel burned by cars, trucks or planes. But the net-zero pledges of most of the big oil companies do not cover these emissions. Instead, they apply to the direct emissions from producing, refining and processing oil and gas.

For the much larger share of consumer-driven emissions—known as scope 3 emissions—the companies have said only that they’ll reduce the “carbon intensity” of their products, or the pollution per unit of energy they sell. That means total emissions could stay level or even grow, as long as a company sells more low-carbon energy like solar or biofuels to compensate for its oil and gas.

The French company Total, for example, has driven down its emissions intensity by nearly 6 percent in recent years by expanding its portfolios of natural gas, biofuels and electricity. At the same time, total emissions have increased by 8 percent, according to a report by the Transition Pathway Initiative, an investor-led effort to track corporate climate plans.

BP’s net-zero pledge illustrates other ways that a company’s stated targets can add up to less than they seem to promise:  BP’s pledge does include some “scope 3” emissions, but only a portion of those the company is responsible for. The pledge excludes more than 40 percent of its oil production and 15 percent of the gas that come from its stake in the Russian energy giant, Rosneft. It also excludes all the oil and gas that BP’s refineries and service stations buy from other producers before selling it to customers.

Together with other exclusions, BP’s pledge would cut the emissions intensity of its products by less than 30 percent by 2050, not the 50 percent the company advertises, according to the TPI report. And none of the pledges made by any of the big oil companies aligns with the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial times, the report said.

“These companies are finding more and more convoluted ways to carve out loopholes and minimize the amount of emissions that they’re actually taking responsibility for,” said Kelly Trout, a senior research analyst at Oil Change International, an advocacy group.

Unmet Targets

Jason Ryan, a BP spokesman, said the company believes that the commitments it has made “set out a path that is consistent with the Paris goals.” He added that the TPI report “focused too heavily on carbon intensity,” and not enough on BP’s net-zero pledges, and that the company will announce more details about its plans in September.

Ryan also noted that Looney, in his speech in February said, “You can expect oil and gas production to decline gradually over time.”

However, later in the speech, when Looney addressed the company’s lack of short-term targets, he said, “We don’t expect progress to be a straight line.”

Another key piece of the pledges is “carbon removal”—investments in reforestation or technologies to remove carbon dioxide from the air—which oil companies say they will use to achieve some of their emissions-reduction goals. Such offset strategies are a quiet admission that the companies expect to continue selling large volumes of oil and gas for decades to come, so emissions cuts will have to come from paying for reductions by others.

Shell’s annual securities filing, for example, says its direct emissions may actually increase in the future, a trend the company says it would counteract with investments in emissions-cutting technology.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said that counting on these types of carbon removal measures may be neither realistic nor sustainable, and has warned that large-scale deployment “could have significant impacts on land, energy, water or nutrients.” Massive reforestation projects, for example, could compete for land with agriculture, or if planted in less fertile areas could harm ecosystems and watersheds. Shell’s chairman, Charles Holliday, recently said that for the company to cut its emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals, it would need to reforest an area the size of Spain.

“I have grave misgivings about gigaton-scale natural solutions,” or forestry offsets, said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University who chairs the Global Carbon Project, which tracks emissions. “And gigaton-scale is the only thing that matters when we’re talking about the coal and oil and natural gas industries.”

Shell declined to answer questions about their emissions pledge, but a spokeswoman, Natalie Gunnell, said in a written statement: “Despite the immediate challenges of today, our focus on climate change remains resolute.”

The pledges to address global warming made by American oil giants  Exxon and Chevron lag far behind those of their European competitors, reflecting a growing trans-Atlantic rift when it comes to the oil industry’s response to climate change. In addition to their net zero pledges, the European majors have begun to grapple more openly with a transition away from fossil fuels, with several companies recently announcing that some of their oil and gas assets are worth less than they once believed.

American companies, in contrast, have not yet even uttered the words “net zero.” Chevron, for example, has said only that it will reduce emissions intensity by 5-10 percent for oil and 2-5 percent for gas by 2023, and that doesn’t cover emissions from its products. Exxon’s only corporate-wide emissions pledge has been to reduce flaring and the release of methane—a potent greenhouse gas and the primary component of natural gas—through this year.

Casey Norton, an Exxon spokesman, declined to comment, but pointed to the company’s Energy and Carbon Summary, which describes Exxon’s emissions pledges and support for the Paris Agreeement.

Sean Comey, a spokesman for Chevron, said, “Our management and board considered a wide range of different [greenhouse gas] reduction metrics and felt it was important to adopt targets that were equity based, “that matched a date when nations will assess their progress under the Paris accord and that “reduced the carbon footprint for both oil and gas.”

Some industry critics say they believe the European companies’ plans may represent real change, while still falling short of where they need to be.

“Talk is cheap, as we all know,” said Mark Lewis, global head of sustainability research for BNP Paribas Asset Management. But, he added,  the pressure on the industry has grown so great that the companies have no choice but to narrow the gap between rhetoric and action.

“There is still a gap, but it’s getting smaller and I think that gap will close much sooner than people realize,” Lewis said

Convincing the Public and Political Elites

While it’s unclear how serious oil executives are about transforming their companies, there’s little doubt about their efforts to transform their image.

“Want to drive carbon neutral? With Shell, now you can,” says one advertisement for the company. The ad promotes a program that allows drivers in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom to offset their emissions through reforestation when they buy gasoline from Shell.

Chevron, which refers to itself as “the human energy company,” has been promoting its “search to transform farm waste into renewable natural gas” in a prominent marketing campaign.

An API advertisement boasts that “Innovators in America’s natural gas and oil companies have teamed up with the country’s brightest minds and reduced carbon emissions levels to the lowest in a generation.”

Environmental sociologist Robert Brulle argues that these marketing efforts have been integral to countering government action on climate change over the last few decades.

Brulle, a visiting professor at Brown University, analyzed 30 years of advertising by the oil and gas industry and found that the most powerful determinants for how much was spent were activity in Congress regarding climate change and media coverage of the issue. In 2010, when Congress was considering climate legislation, the oil industry spent $315 million on advertising.

“What they’re trying to do,” Brulle said, “is to convince the public and political elites that they’re being responsible actors and that there’s no need for legislation or regulation.”

From 2016 through 2019, Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell and the petroleum institute spent more than $440 million on corporate promotion advertisements in the United States, according to data from Kantar Media, analyzed by Brulle for InsideClimate News.

Spending by Exxon accounted for more than half that total. The company’s ads often focused on how its products made cars more efficient or on its algae biofuels research. While exact spending on that research is not publicly available, it represents a miniscule portion of Exxon’s business.

Frank Maisano, a media specialist at Bracewell LLP who has worked with energy companies for decades, said the net-zero pledges and the talk about biofuels or CCS are ways for the industry to influence climate policy at a moment when government action on climate change has stalled in the United States and in international negotiations.

“I think a lot of the companies see that paralysis in the U.S. and internationally as an opportunity to talk about what they want to do,” he said, “and spell it out in a way that works for them.”

Oil Under Pressure

On Looney’s first day as chief executive, BP’s employees were welcomed at the company’s London headquarters by Greenpeace activists in red jumpsuits who had chained themselves to oil drums, blocking the building’s entrance.

Greenpeace activists are seen chained to oil drums after the environmental group blockaded the BP headquarters with solar panels and boards, on Feb. 5, 2020 in London, England. Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Looney is a trim Irishman who projects an air of humility and collegiality and favors open-collared shirts. In announcing the company’s new direction in February, he said his mother had taught him that, “We were given two ears and one mouth, and we should use them in that proportion.” His response to the activists seemed to take account of that advice: The protests, he said, were a sign of the company’s problems.

“They are not the only ones who believe we are out of step with society,” he said. “Some investors do as well, and some of our own staff. And that is an uncomfortable place to be.”

Propelled by the youth climate movement, the public pressure on oil companies to address climate change took a quantum leap last year. Every major company faces lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions over its record on climate change, as well as an endless series of shareholder resolutions pressing for more ambitious action. In May, BlackRock, one of Chevron’s largest shareholders, helped pass a climate resolution during the company’s annual shareholders meeting.

Trailing the Market

The most significant pressure, however, is coming not from activists but from investors who see a widening gulf between corporate business models, which continue to revolve around growing production, and a looming peak in global demand for the industry’s products. While an energy transition will take decades, said Lewis, of BNP Paribas Asset Management, markets can price that change much more quickly. “That’s really what’s been happening already over the last couple of years,” he said.

The energy sector’s share of the S&P 500 index has fallen from about 12 percent a decade ago to 3 percent today. Returns have lagged behind the broader market. Exxon’s market value has plummeted from more than $500 billion in 2007 to less than $200 billion today, and the company’s valuation was recently overtaken by Tesla. Lewis argues that this is a reflection of large, structural challenges that the industry faces.

Even as the U.S. population has grown over the last 15 years, oil consumption in the United States has flattened. In the future, Lewis said,  electric vehicles will push down consumption not only in the United States and Europe, but in China, too, where oil demand has so far continued to climb. Meanwhile, wind and solar energy are fast becoming competitive with or cheaper than natural gas for power generation in much of the world.

The sharp contraction in energy demand and economic growth that came  with the coronavirus pandemic has driven many analysts to rethink the pace at which these shifts may occur. Goldman Sachs says investment in renewable energy will surpass that in oil and gas production next year, and some are predicting that oil demand may never again climb higher than it was in 2019. Even Looney has said that possibility can’t be discounted.

Plunging Oil Demand

Energy companies have responded to the collapse in oil prices by cutting more than a hundred billion dollars in spending on exploration and production this year, and analysts are projecting a wave of bankruptcies among smaller firms that could ensnare more than 200 companies before the end of next year in the United States alone.

In May, Exxon reported its first quarterly loss in decades. The following month, BP and Shell each announced that a dimmer outlook for oil and gas prices—driven by the pandemic and governments’ stepped-up efforts to address climate change—was forcing the companies to cut the value of their assets, by up to $17.5 billion in BP’s case and up to $22 billion for Shell. BP said that some of its oil and gas investments might never be developed, and two weeks later announced the sale of its petrochemicals business for $5 billion. The moves were the biggest signs yet that some oil executives believe the pandemic may accelerate a transition away from their core product.

To find a way out of the current economic havoc, Lewis said, the oil companies “really have to think much more carefully about their business model in the future, because the long-term trends are really starting to assert their power.”

Today’s oil prices are too low to justify most new drilling projects, and in some cases, they don’t even cover the cost of operations.

“Whereas in the past, the oil and gas companies have been able to say ‘We have this great business model, we dig stuff out of the ground and we refine it and sell it and we make 15 to 20 percent returns,'” Lewis said. “You can’t make that argument anymore.”

What About Renewable Energy?

Oil companies might be talking about a transition, but their investments have largely remained the same. The day after Shell announced its net-zero ambition, the company also announced it would build a $6.4 billion gas project in Australia that is expected to operate for nearly 30 years, part of a joint venture with PetroChina. That project alone would draw more investment from Shell than all of its renewable energy ventures to date. The company boasts that its oil and gas production arm “has a strong development funnel of projects that offers long-life, resilient growth opportunities,” and will generate “robust cash flow for decades to come.”

The oil giants’ spending on clean energy, by contrast, remains paltry. An analysis by Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm, found that BP, Shell, Chevron and Total spent a total of $7.9 billion on clean energy acquisitions since 2016, while Exxon spent nothing at all. That compares to the total capital spending by the five companies’ of $350 billion from 2016 through the end of last year. And while Total says it will devote at least 10 percent of its spending to clean energy this year, each of the other four companies’ share is in the single-digits.

In fact, the industry as a whole accounted for only about 0.5 percent of global investment in renewable energy from 2015 through 2018, according to the International Energy Agency, and a little more than a third of the investment in carbon capture technology during that period.

Valentina Kretzschmar, vice president of corporate research at Wood Mackenzie, said that while the industry has been increasing its investment in renewable energy, its current spending falls far short of what’s needed.

“They will have to commit a lot more capital to achieve these targets,” she said.

It’s too soon to say whether the companies will substantially alter their long-term outlooks, given the effects of the coronavirus pandemic: Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, said the likelihood has increased that oil demand will peak in this decade. But in general, the companies project that oil use will remain robust for decades. By contrast, in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial times, modeling published by the IPCC shows that oil demand must fall sharply by 2030, even with widespread deployment of carbon capture technology.

The executives of big oil companies like to say they must respond to the demands of the global energy market. But that view ignores the role that the companies play in shaping that market through their monumental investments, said Tim Buckley, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a clean energy think tank.

“Those top five companies are going to determine the success of the Paris Agreement,” Buckley said, noting that, taken together, their planned spending on oil and gas over a decade is close to $1 trillion. If the companies were to reallocate that and direct even a much smaller amount to renewable energy, he said, it would shift the landscape.

“All of a sudden instead of spending $1 trillion over here, you’re actually spending $200 billion or $300 billion on the solution,” Buckley said. “I would say a $1.2 trillion dollar shift is huge for the world.”

A Kinder, Gentler Image

Looney is not the first chief executive of BP to promise transformation in the face of climate change. In 1997, seven months before governments adopted the Kyoto Protocol agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, John Browne, BP’s chief executive at the time, gave a speech at Stanford University in which he promised to cut corporate emissions and to invest in renewable energy, much as Looney did this year.

In 2000, the company launched a marketing campaign that promised to move “beyond petroleum” and ushered in branding symbols that suggested environmental awareness, including the green hues and sunburst logo that Looney would stand in front of two decades later.

The rebranding worked.

“BP’s kinder, gentler image touched a nerve with American consumers,” wrote Miriam Cherry and Judd Sneirson, two law professors, in a 2010 article about the campaign. “For whatever gas-guzzling SUVs they or their neighbors might own, for however many trips consumers made in their cars, they at least aspired to be kinder to the environment. And these consumers wanted to patronize a ‘green’ gasoline brand, and BP seemed to be that brand.”

How BP's Pledges Break Down

The company plopped some solar panels on the roof of a gas station in Los Angeles, Cherry and Sneirson wrote, and doubled sales. BP’s stock price tripled during Browne’s tenure.

The company left the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group that opposed the Kyoto Protocol, and increased spending on renewable energy.

But the change didn’t last long. A new leader took the helm in 2007, and the company struggled financially. Within a few years of the 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and unleashed the worst offshore oil leak in history, BP had sold off its solar assets, part of an “effort to become a more focused oil and gas company.”

Workers contracted to BP clean up oil that washed ashore on June 8, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Credit: Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images

Workers contracted to BP clean up oil that washed ashore on June 8, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Credit: Benjamin Lowy/Getty Images

The “beyond petroleum” campaign and similar advertising efforts today are part of a long tradition in the oil industry that Brulle, the Brown professor, traces to the work of Ivy Lee, who in the early 20th century helped John D. Rockefeller Jr. of Standard Oil remake his image from hated robber baron to the philanthropist and patron behind Rockefeller Center.

Much of the promotional push by oil and gas companies, Brulle said, goes into portraying the companies and their products as deeply intertwined with modern life—Exxon’s newsletter, for example, recently promoted the use of its petroleum products in the manufacturing of face masks, surgical gowns and hand sanitizer, in an effort to link the oil giant to the coronavirus pandemic.

“That is how they’re able to try to shift the public discourse and the public understanding of climate change,” he said. “And to the extent they’re effective, they delay or obstruct further mandatory actions to limit carbon emissions. And so far it’s been pretty successful.”

But activists and some public officials are increasingly using the legal system to fight these branding campaigns. Lawsuits filed over the past year by MassachusettsMinnesota and Washington, D.C., for example, accuse the major oil companies of defrauding consumers through misleading advertising.

The lawsuits, along with complaints filed by advocates with regulators in Europe, say that the ads stand in stark contrast to the companies’ actions, particularly their lobbying. In 2018, for example, BP played a central role in blocking the adoption of a carbon tax in Washington State, spending $13 million to help defeat the effort. BP, Chevron and API all supported the Trump administration’s weakening of regulations limiting methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The institute has also pressed lawmakers and governors to eliminate incentives for electric vehicles, policies that are among the few in the United States that encourage a shift away from oil.

As the pandemic spread across the globe earlier this year, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, which includes all the major oil companies, pressed Canada’s government to postpone implementation of a clean fuels standard, a planned increase in the nation’s carbon price, and consideration of any new measures to help reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

“When you see that behavior I find it hugely concerning,” said Adam Matthews, director of ethics and engagement for the Church of England Pensions Board and co-chair of the Transition Pathway Initiative.

BP and Shell insist they are now aligning their lobbying with their net-zero goals. Shell, at least, has begun to back this up: The company opposed the Trump administration’s methane regulation roll-back and the loosening of fuel efficiency standards for cars. Shell and BP also have announced they will leave the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade group, because of its opposition to carbon taxes and its failure to support the Paris Agreement. In February, BP said it would end its “corporate reputation” advertising, and that any future campaigns would “push for progressive climate policy; communicate our net zero ambition; invite ideas; or build collaboration.”

But both companies remain members of API, saying they will work from within to change its positions.

Ryan, the BP spokesman, said that the Washington State carbon tax measure was poorly designed, and that the company supported other carbon tax proposals in the state. And he noted that BP had sent a letter to the Canadian petroleum association, saying that it disagreed with the association’s request to postpone a carbon price increase.

Matthews said that ultimately, the oil industry will have to press governments to adopt more aggressive policies to bring down emissions for companies to achieve their own net-zero pledges.

“I think that’s where lobbying will go,” he said. “I don’t think it’s there yet.”

An Opportunity for Change

The pandemic and the resulting global recession could represent a turning point.

The volatility of the oil market and a steep decline in prices have made the stability of renewable energy projects—which generally include long-term contracts for selling electricity at steady prices—all the more attractive to investors. Perhaps the biggest obstacle to transforming oil companies has been the inability to generate the returns from renewable energy that the industry has for decades reaped from oil and gas. But at today’s oil prices, the profits from oil projects aren’t much better than those from renewables, which are also much less risky.

Oil companies could seize this opportunity to accelerate their shift to clean energy. Or, seeing their profits tumble, they could double down on their core product, treating investments in renewables as an unaffordable extravagance.

Looney and executives at Shell have said the crisis only deepens their commitment to change. But that change remains incremental. BP’s “low carbon energy” spending goal for the year, for example, amounts to 4 percent of its budget, and Looney has so far refused to make any commitments beyond that.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the oil companies’ pledges is that avoiding dangerous warming will require drastic action within one decade, not three. But the plans are largely silent about the short-term.

Andrew Grant, head of oil, gas and mining with the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a financial think tank, said the pledges fail to spell out any credible path for how they will be met.

“Okay, we’ve set these targets for 2050, how are we going to get there?” he said. “How’s that going to happen?”


By Nicholas Kusnetz

Bill McKibben: Betting on Gas Is Definitely Immoral—and Probably Unwise

Even as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy announced that they are cancelling plans for the massive Atlantic Coast gas pipeline, other pipeline projects are likely to continue apace.Photograph by Julia Rendleman / Bloomberg / Getty

The fallout from last week’s epic pipeline defeats continues. Activists celebrated when the Secretary of Energy blamed them for the fossil-fuel industry’s recent losses; a writer in the Financial Times used the three reversals as an opportunity to ask, “Is the party finally over for US oil and gas?” (His answer: yes, and if Joe Biden wins he “will inherit an energy market that, despite Mr. Trump’s efforts, is primed for a transition that will be backed by investors increasingly obliged to bet on clean energy.”) But there was one discordant note: even as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy announced that they are cancelling plans for the massive Atlantic Coast gas pipeline, Dominion also said that Warren Buffett has bought its residential natural-gas business for ten billion dollars. So the Oracle of Omaha is betting on gas.

Buffett is far from infallible. Just last year, he bet ten billion dollars on oil, and in May he lamented the hit he’d taken on the investment, saying that he planned to invest more in solar and wind—but also, it seems, gas. He hasn’t explained his reasoning, but Sammy Roth, writing for the L.A. Timesprovided the best guesses. In truth, gas has always been Big Hydrocarbon’s fondest hope for an exit strategy: coal is so clearly filthy that even Trump’s efforts have done nothing to stem its decline, and oil has probably hit its peak, as electric vehicles beckon. Gas is the remaining possibility for growth—and, indeed, it has grown sharply in the past decade, partly due to its reputation as a clean fuel. (Check out the industry’s Web page, with its sprightly trademarked slogan “Propane Can Do That.”) But that reputation was always overblown at best. Scientists have spent the past decade learning that natural-gas production spews methane into the air at dangerous rates; those molecules join with carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to accelerate the climate crisis. In recent days, analysts reported that, worldwide, nearly half of all big projects to export liquefied natural gas are now in trouble, thanks to climate concerns and a covid-related reduction in demand.

As drillers go bankrupt, it seems possible that the fracking industry will pass its zenith without ever having produced an actual profit. (In fact, the Times warned over the weekend that some of these companies may be going bankrupt before fulfilling their obligations to seal and cap their abandoned wells, which are now leaking methane in large quantities into the atmosphere.) Last week, utilities in Arizona, Colorado, and Florida announced plans to close coal-fired power plants and go straight to renewable energy, bypassing the so-called bridge offered by natural gas. The Center for International Environmental Law reported that “oil and gas companies can no longer mask their financial frailty.”

Buffett’s bet on gas is immoral—at this point, trying to make money off hydrocarbons is essentially facilitating the collapse of the climate system—but it may also be financially unsound. Even if natural-gas backers such as Ernest Moniz, who was the Secretary of Energy under President Obama, win the fight to influence Biden’s policies (and Biden did say last week that fracking is “not on the chopping block”), there are reasons to think that the fuel’s glory days are waning fast. A CleanTechnica analysis of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline gives credit to activists for their relentless fight but also to the home heat pump, which uses modest amounts of electricity to heat homes and water. This electric appliance is common in much of the world, but is only now catching on in the United States. According to the report, “as of 2019 heat pumps accounted for 40% of new single family residential construction and 50% of new multi-family buildings.” That’s because the device works better than its alternatives: it uses far less energy to quietly heat or cool a building than a gas furnace. (Despite its name, a heat pump also works as an ultra-efficient air-conditioner, which is useful given the current “relentless” heat wave that forecasters have said will be hitting most of the country for “multiple weeks.”) Like an electric car, a heat pump is simply a more elegant technology, not to mention cheaper to operate. Yes, inertia will keep many people from making the switch in their existing homes, unless good government policy makes it easier. But such policies are not hard to imagine, and the Rocky Mountain Institute lays out some proposals in a new report, highlighting a Maine initiative to install a hundred thousand pumps around the state in the years to come.

The political power of the fossil-fuel industry is on the decline, which means that all the engineers with good ideas about the future will get an increasingly fair hearing for their plans. In addition, every time a new electric appliance is installed, the wealth—and hence the political power of the fossil-fuel industry—declines a tick further, in the kind of virtuous cycle that we badly need to keep accelerating. Hail the humble heat pump.

Passing the Mic

Priscillia Ludosky is an unlikely and fascinating leader. Born in Martinique in 1985, she moved to France with her family when she was young. She has a small online cosmetics business, but, in the spring of 2018, she wrote an online petition calling for more responsive government and for lower taxes on essential goods. It went viral, and she is now regarded as one of the founders of the “Yellow Vest” movement—protesters who brought much of France to a standstill that winter. In this country, the movement was often described as a protest against gas taxes (and one that was adopted by some far-right elements). But Ludosky, in fact, is a longtime and dedicated environmentalist, whose recent book, “Ensemble Nous Demandons Justice” (“Together We Demand Justice”), which she wrote with fellow-activist Marie Toussaint, was released in France in May. She also helped lead a process to create a citizens’ assembly, which, in agreement with Emmanuel Macron’s government, consulted with experts and then offered proposals for radical reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions. My interview with her has been edited for length and clarity.

How did the citizens’ assembly work? Who was in it, and what are a few of the things they recommended?

These are a hundred and fifty citizens randomly chosen, with the mandate to “define a series of measures to achieve a reduction of at least forty per cent of emissions by 2030 (compared with 1990) in a spirit of social justice.” From October, 2019, they had seven working sessions, as well as online work, and were trained, informed by experts, decided who they were going to consult, and divided into several working groups: “Feeding,” “To lodge,” “To work/produce,” “Mobility,” and “To consume.” They had to define which proposals would become rules of procedure, or laws, or be submitted to a referendum. The President had undertaken to accept and apply them “without filtering.” Examples of proposals: a referendum to introduce into the Constitution environmental and biodiversity protection; a law to penalize environmental crime. They voted and submitted their hundred and forty-nine proposals to the government on June 21st and these were received by the President on June 29th.

Now all support organizations, such as our collective “The Citizens Vests” (“Gilets Citoyens” in French), which are organizing to communicate what can be better in people’s long-term daily lives if some of these proposals are adopted. The President said some proposals would be included in one project, of several laws, by the end of the summer, and others can be submitted to the population through a referendum by 2021. He also said that the modification to the Constitution would be submitted through a referendum by 2021. But we don’t know if he will respect his commitment, so we need public debate and interest around this to make it happen. The citizens’ assembly has created an association to keep an eye over their work.

Green parties seem to have done well in many French cities—what’s the political mood there now about things like transit?

It is difficult for the President to avoid the question of the climate emergency, and some think that people voted for the Greens thanks to the citizens’ assembly, and because of the social dysfunctions pointed out during the “Yellow Vest” movement. You can observe now that the government talks a little bit more about climate change than before, but people say this is just strategic, because it notices the actual interest of the population in that question.

Climate School

If you want a short (and charmingly powerful) video that explains why fossil-fuel divestment is so important, you can’t do better than this colorful offering from the young people at the Bay Area Earth Guardians Crew and Youth vs. Apocalypse.

As feedback loops go, this one’s pretty simple: heat and drought lead to fire, and when you burn a forest you pour a lot of carbon into the atmosphere. According to the Timesthe Siberian wildfires that occurred after temperatures topped a hundred degrees Fahrenheit north of the Arctic Circle apparently “released more polluting gases into the Earth’s atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection.”

Every little bit helps: last week, researchers announced that spreading rock dust on farm fields could pull fairly large amounts of carbon from the air, even as the practice builds healthier soil. “When silicate or carbonate minerals in the dust dissolve in rain water, carbon dioxide is drawn from the atmosphere into the solution to form bicarbonate ions,” the Washington Post explains. “The bicarbonate ions are eventually washed by runoff into the ocean, where they form carbonate minerals, storing their carbon indefinitely.” One drawback is the quantity of energy required to crush the rock, which could amount to a third of what it manages to save.

A global team of young people based in Japan has designed a new app to make it easy for people to contribute small sums to forest preservation.

Very useful new thoughts from the Center for Sustainable Economy about how to make sure that fossil-fuel companies cover the risks of oil spills and other accidents, instead of leaving the costs of these disasters for taxpayers.

The first reports from a robotic sub exploring the bottom of Antarctica’s vast Thwaites Glacier are not encouraging. An international team of researchers found that “warm water from the deep ocean is welling up from three directions and mixing underneath the ice.” That’s bad news, since the collapse of that single glacier would raise the global sea level half a metre.

Joye Braun, an indefatigable activist from the Indigenous Environmental Network, reminds pipeline opponents not to slack off in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court rulings. Not only are other pipeline projects likely to continue apace (a fact that Steve Horn points out as well), but, as Braun wrote to me in an e-mail, the construction of “man camps” along the Keystone-pipeline route seems to still be under way. Such encampments, built for workers on the pipeline, create a particular threat in spreading the coronavirus, and have frequently been linked to sexual violence. Braun writes, “On the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation women have formed a Nazhoo (‘whistle blower’ but not like DC whistle blower—actual blowing of whistles) society,” and they are using social media to spread that idea to other reservations. Meanwhile, a delegation of indigenous women meets this week with Deutsche Bank, to ask it to stop supplying cash to the companies behind Keystone and other such projects.


There’s really just one number on the scoreboard that truly counts, and it shows how badly we’re losing. Scientists reported last week that new analyses show we’re approaching CO2 levels that haven’t been seen for fifteen million years—meaning that our atmosphere is becoming novel for hominids.

The Douglas fir is the state tree of Oregon (and the centerpiece of the best state license plate in America), but it’s in big trouble as temperatures heat up. The author Tim Palmer suggests that the conifer would be the proper rallying symbol for residents of the Beaver State who want to take on climate change.

I’m always looking for little signs that the energy revolution is reaching into key corners of our economy, so it was heartening to read about “climate smart” solar tractors. They can, the inventors say, be “charged by renewable energy” and still “provide all the power of a comparable diesel tractor.” (Of course, that’s also a good way to describe a draft horse.)

Data for Progress reports that extensive polling shows climate change should be a winning issue for Democrats in the fall; meanwhile, the group Climate Leaders for Biden managed to raise four million dollars in a single twenty-minute virtual fund-raiser, coördinated by the longtime environmental leader Tom Steyer, Biden’s former primary rival. It’s apparently Biden’s biggest single-event haul of the campaign.

Warming Up

I’ve been listening a lot to a new double album, “Dialectic Soul,” from a jazz combo led by the Cape Town-born drummer Asher Gamedze. Here’s a cut. The record is “about the unfinished and always unfolding practices and traditions of resistance, and how the motion of these things is imperative to imagining, articulating and building new worlds within worlds.”

Humans Can’t Be Healthy On A Sick Planet

I’ve been a pediatrician for over 30 years. I’ve cared for everything from tiny premature babies to teens with eating disorders. And still, the subtitle of the 2019 Lancet Countdown Report shocked “ensuring that the health of a child born today is not defined by a changing climate.”

That child could easily be my patient

Perhaps she is the critically ill newborn I spent nine hours with this past Wednesday [July 1]. Maybe he’s the chubby infant of a mom with diabetes. Or the tiny preemie born while I’m on call tomorrow.

Whatever the case, I’ll rush in to the hospital. I’ll do everything I can to make sure each new life gets off to the best possible start. And thankfully, I won’t be there on my own. I’m part of a team of health care workers who will rally around to help. And should things get too complicated, I can call up the NICU at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, and get advice or even transfer the baby for more intensive care.

When a newborn is sick, the health care system gears up. We want to ensure that the child born today has the very best chance of a happy and healthy life. It’s our job, and it’s our calling. But what of the months and years to come?

Humans Can’t be Healthy on a Sick Planet

Until recent decades, we’ve assumed that the planet will be there to support our health. We humans just need to figure out the social, political, and medical stuff. But as we push up against the boundaries of what the planet can sustain, and fill our atmosphere with pollution and greenhouse gases, the planet is starting to push back. And people are realizing that we can’t expect to be healthy when our planet is sick.

This Century’s Greatest Health Threat

Way back in 2009, the eminent medical journal The Lancet declared that “climate change is the 21st century’s greatest health threat.” And that’s still true despite the pandemic.

So what about that very sick infant I finally sent to Sick Kids on Wednesday evening? Will we rescue her from whatever ailment is immediately threatening her life only to send her into a world where a changing and unstable climate threatens her physical and mental health? Will she drown in a flood? Will her home and community burn to the ground in a wildfire, traumatizing her for life? Will air pollution cause or worsen her asthma? Will drought or pestilence drive her from her homeland? Will lack of clean water, food insecurity, and political instability, all likely outcomes of climate change, plague her life, limit her opportunities, or even kill her?

Health care workers around the world are beginning to face up to these questions. Many of them conclude that we have an ethical, even a moral responsibility, to help preserve the health of the planet. After all, the planet supports and sustains the health of our patients, the very people we labour to heal, from cradle to grave.


How a New Effort to Trace Emissions, Led by Al Gore, Could Reshape Climate Talks

Soeren Stache—Picture Alliance/Getty Images

As countries entered the final months of talks ahead of the Paris Agreement in 2015, China offered a big revelation: the country had burned substantially more coal than it had previously acknowledged in the preceding years.

Many diplomats took the voluntary acknowledgment as a sign of good faith. Nonetheless, the update underscored the broader challenges that climate change activists face when it comes to data collection. Historically, there’s been no way for third parties to directly gather data on the greenhouse gas emissions of both public and private entities, and so any concerted effort to reduce emissions has required trusting companies and governments to tell the truth about how much they’re polluting.

Now, a new coalition of nine climate and technology organizations calling themselves Climate Trace say they have used satellite data, artificial intelligence and other technology to track greenhouse-gas emissions from across the globe remotely. At the micro level, the platform allows users to track emissions down to the level of individual factories, ships and power plants. In aggregate, the platform will allow for a collective accounting of the how the world is doing in the effort to reduce emissions.

“We are creating, in a way, a massively distributed body cam for the planet,” says former Vice President Al Gore, who has helped lead the initiative. In other words, if a given country claims to have reduced, say power-plant emissions, other countries will soon be able to immediately tap into Climate Trace and get data to verify the claim.

The problem Climate Trace aims to solve is as old as the climate challenge itself. Emissions data are often collected by local governments and authorities and collated at a national level. For that reason, the validity of the data can vary significantly from country to country and region to region. This has created distrust and disagreement about what data can be trusted—and by extension which governments can be relied upon to follow through on their commitments to reduce emissions.

Creating a system that would provide a single, reliable data set is as much an organizational feat as a technical one. Individual countries and other organizations have their own satellites, as well as other ground-level tracking tools, that collect greenhouse-gas emissions data. But these countries, companies and even non-profits often have competing interests and, therefore, aren’t necessarily inclined to collaborate.

The organizations behind Climate Trace intend to bring that data together. Instead of launching a new satellite, they have gained access to data from dozens of sources, including satellites and ground observations, and are crunching the information in a way that no organization has yet been able to do. “They can construct something that none of them can do individually,” says Paul Bodnar, a former energy and climate official in the Obama Administration who now serves as a managing director at the Rocky Mountain Institute, which is working on the project.

Accurately monitoring the world’s emissions from afar would be a significant feat that could reshape many key points of debate among those working to fight climate change. Countries would be able to verify that their counterparts are following through on emissions reductions commitments, governments could crack down on companies that are covering up their true footprint and environmental groups could trace illegal forestry practices that are reducing forest cover and emitting carbon in the process.

To do that, “we’re going to need power-plant, in fact, boiler-level information in literally real time for every single power plant in the world,” says Gavin McCormick, executive director of WattTime, a coalition member that works to advance clean energy.

The project is currently in prototype mode, but Gore and his partners say they plan to offer an accounting of global emissions by next October ahead of COP26, a key climate conference in Glasgow scheduled to begin Nov. 1, 2021. Gore says he has been in contact with the conference organizers about how to implement it. This would be a major advance. In the talks that led to the Paris Agreement, discussions about how to monitor, report and verify emissions lasted long into the conference, with many negotiators concerned about the possibility that some countries might cheat. Climate Trace would allow for instant monitoring and verification.

“It’s an entirely different proposition to have real time and near real time data,” says Gore. “When we can trace the source of all significant emissions, then it creates a new reality.”




Tracking climate data in real time

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