Apple’s low-carbon aluminum is a climate game changer

When Apple announced new climate goals last week, the tech giant revealed that some of its sleek, silvery laptops will include a novel material: “low-carbon” aluminum. The lightweight metal is chemically the same as the mass-produced version used in products like foil, soda cans, bike frames, and car doors. But it’s made using a different industrial process — one that doesn’t result in the direct release of greenhouse gases.

Apple is poised to become the first company to include some of this low-carbon aluminum in its products. For experts in the field, this amounts to a breakthrough after decades of development. But while the laptops prove this new approach is viable, researchers are still figuring out how to scale up the material’s production so it can be an option for the entire aluminum sector. If they succeed, the alternative process could eliminate a significant chunk of aluminum’s carbon footprint.

“This is a pivotal moment,” Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or MIT.

The news arrives as the global aluminum industry grapples with rising greenhouse gas emissions. Even as consumers diligently recycle cans and electronics, repurposed aluminum still only accounts for about one-third of the global market. All told, producing new aluminum results in about 1 percent of global annual emissions. But demand, production, and consumption have climbed in recent years — particularly in China, which still relies heavily on coal-fired power plants.

Apple said aluminum represented 27 percent of its product manufacturing footprint in 2015. The tech firm now uses more recycled aluminum in its devices and prioritizes suppliers who run their facilities with hydropower, not coal. Such efforts have reduced Apple’s aluminum-related emissions by 63 percent, the company reported in March. To address the rest of its aluminum footprint, Apple is partnering with the firm Elysis to create a supply chain for low-carbon aluminum. In July, Apple announced the first batch of the material would be incorporated into its 16-inch Macbook Pros.

Neither company disclosed how much of the novel aluminum will be mixed into the Macbook Pros. But once laptops hit the shelves, they could potentially spur a larger shift toward cleaner materials in a highly carbon-intensive industry.

“That will break open the floodgates for all sorts of other consumers to say, ‘We want green aluminum, too,’’’ Sadoway said.

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, though it doesn’t naturally occur in an easy-to-scoop form. Mining companies must scrape topsoil to extract bauxite, a reddish clay rock that’s rich in alumina (also called aluminum oxide). Refineries next separate out alumina so it resembles a fine white table salt. Finally, the alumina is heated and melted — or smelted — to make aluminum. This last step contributes the most to climate change, as it results in the direct release of greenhouse gases, and it’s where researchers are searching for innovation.

Smelting involves dissolving alumina in a molten salt bath that’s heated to over 1,700 degrees Fahrenheit. Large carbon blocks (or “anodes”) are lowered down into the highly corrosive bath; electrical currents then run through the entire structure. Aluminum deposits at the bottom as oxygen combines with carbon in the blocks, creating carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

On average, the electrochemical process of smelting contributes about 14 percent of total emissions from global aluminum production. Another 70 percent comes from the electricity used to run the smelters, said Guðrún Arnbjörg Sævarsdóttir, an associate professor at Reykjavik University in Iceland. However, in places where smelters tap into clean power, there is virtually no emissions from electricity use. So the biggest carbon challenge is the smelting process itself, she said.

Apple’s low-carbon aluminum supplier uses an alternative electrochemical process that emits only oxygen.

Elysis, based in Montreal, is a joint venture of the global mining giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto and is supported by the Canadian government. In lieu of carbon blocks, Elysis uses materials that can separate aluminum without causing a chemical reaction. The company made its first commercial batch last year at the Alcoa Technical Center in Pittsburgh, and it sold the supply to Apple in December. The two-year-old firm is currently building a $37 million ($50 million CAD) research facility in Saguenay, Quebec.

Elysis hasn’t shared exactly which materials it uses in its system. But scientists around the world have studied a similar concept since the 1980s. The basic idea is to use chemically inactive, or “inert,” metallic alloys in the anodes, through which the electrical currents flow. MIT’s Sadoway previously researched carbon alternatives as a way of reducing electricity use in smelters. Today, programs in China, Norway, Russia, and Iceland are using inert anodes to make aluminum in lower-temperature conditions. Arctus Metal, a small firm in Reykjavik, recently produced its first batch — a one-pound ingot — from its lab.

“This is like the Holy Grail of aluminum production,” Sævarsdóttir said of the efforts.

Sævarsdóttir is involved with Arctus Metal’s research on carbon-free smelting. The company is now scaling its demonstration unit, which uses a 500-amp electric current, to run on up to 10,000 amps, said CEO Jón Hjaltalín Magnússon. (A commercial-scale smelter will run on up to 200,000 amps.) If adopted by Iceland’s three aluminum smelters — which use geothermal and hydropower — the technology would eliminate about one-third of the country’s total emissions, he said.

photo of Jón Hjaltalín Magnússon with low-carbon aluminum
Jón Hjaltalín Magnússon, left, CEO of Arctus Metal, presents the company’s first batch of low-carbon aluminum in Iceland in June 2020. Courtesy Jón Hjaltalín Magnússon

Researchers still need to resolve key technical issues before inert anodes can be used at industrial scale. Mainly, the materials require higher voltages of electricity to make aluminum, which drives up smelters’ electricity use and costs. Companies must design more energy-efficient systems so that low-carbon aluminum doesn’t become too expensive or unappealing for construction companies, beverage can makers, and other major buyers of aluminum.

For the wider aluminum industry, the most pressing concern remains reducing carbon pollution from power plants.

Since 2000, smelters have actually grown more reliant on coal and natural gas for electricity, even as solar projects and wind farms proliferate around the world. Many facilities in the Americas and Europe shuttered in recent years, and a significant share of production shifted to China and countries in the Middle East. The result is a market awash in abundant, relatively cheap aluminum — with which low-carbon alternatives will have to contend.

“The competition on the global scale is really hard,” said Sadoway, who also runs a startup, Boston Metal, that’s developing a carbon-free steelmaking process. Ventures like Elysis, he said, “have a very, very steep hill to climb.”

Expanding low-carbon aluminum use will require companies and governments to take deliberate steps, Sævarsdóttir said. For instance, putting a carbon tax on consumer products would make it more expensive to buy conventionally made aluminum. Such a system could pressure manufacturers to adopt low-carbon technologies and encourage contractors to source more sustainable materials for construction projects. Or corporations could simply follow in Apple’s footsteps and commit to buying products with lower supply-chain emissions.

It’s still unclear how far Apple will go in adopting low-carbon aluminum across its other product lines, or whether producers like Elysis can ultimately scale their technologies beyond the lab (or a single company) and into other industrial facilities. Still, the initiative is an important sign that major companies are willing to invest in greener metals.

“I really approve of what Apple is doing,” Sævarsdóttir said. “This is the way we must go.”


Without nature, there’s no green recovery

Restore damaged habitats to build back better

As we emerge from our homes after the pandemic and start the journey to economic recovery, we must invest in nature. Habitat restoration is at the heart of recovery for the majority of at-risk species and the key to a sustainable, inclusive future for all.

Habitat loss due to industrial activity threatens species like caribou. Many Indigenous communities are losing access to caribou and with it, experiences, languages and cultural practices related to the land. Food insecurity arises due to habitat destruction and high costs of imported goods. Mainstream economies fail to provide services formerly supported by the forest.

Ask your premier to support restoration of fragmented habitats as a part of their post-pandemic recovery strategy and reconciliation. By reaffirming the commitment to reconciliation and restoration, our premiers have the power help us create a sustainable future for all.

Send a letter to my premier

Wherever we live, our well-being depends on our relationship with nature. Humans are interconnected and interdependent with nature, so species and habitat restoration are key to our survival.

Let’s invest in nature and help ensure a safe, healthy future for our children and future generations of humans and wildlife.


Rachel Plotkin, Boreal Project Manager,
The David Suzuki Foundation

P.S. You can help stop the decline of animals like the boreal woodland caribou. Write your premier now.

Inside Alberta’s Advertising War to Win TMX Approval

Internal emails obtained by The Tyee reveal the prohibitive cost of convincing young people, an Instagram violation, an order to ‘delete ASAP,’ and more.

Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage visited Vancouver on May 30, 2019 to launch a $1.1-million BC ad campaign blaming high gas prices on TMX pipeline expansion delays. In the days after, Lower Mainland gas prices dropped 25 per cent for reasons unrelated to pipeline capacity. Photo via the Alberta government.

he Alberta government wages its clumsy propaganda campaign on behalf of the oil and gas industry from a $30-million “war room” called the Canadian Energy Centre that blocks public scrutiny. Premier Jason Kenney’s UCP government made sure of its secrecy by exempting its inner workings from access to information laws.

But The Tyee has obtained internal documents from previous such efforts by the Kenney government — the “BC for TMX” and “Yes to TMX” campaigns conducted in 2019. Combined, they spent $2.75 million in taxpayer funds to place less than a week’s worth of ads. Email exchanges shed light on tactics, costs and rule-bending inside the twin efforts to sway public opinion.

TMX stands for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that aims to nearly triple the amount of emissions-intensive oilsands crude sent from Alberta to Vancouver’s port for shipping. Opponents include some First Nations, environmentalists, climate crisis activists and B.C.’s current NDP government.

The emails obtained by The Tyee via a freedom of information request reveal Alberta government employees:

      • Calculated that the cost to get younger people online to click through to ads on the TMX project had been $700 per conversion;
      • Discussed excluding highly-educated British Columbians from seeing their social media ads;
      • Deliberately hid information from social media ad recipients that would help them know why they were identified as targets;
      • After receiving a backlash online for its messages, abruptly narrowed their ad recipient target in B.C. to those already supporting the pipeline;
      • Marked “urgent” the decision to “blacklist” a dating site known to be used by LGBTQ+ people from all Government of Alberta advertising.

The emails also reveal the team trying to figure out exactly which Instagram rules they violated, causing their site to be taken down by the social media platform.

And at one point, an urgent order was issued to delete all BC For TMX social media accounts and other campaign evidence.

Young people? Never mind

The emails are exchanges within the Communications and Public Engagement department in charge of the campaigns. Near the start of the campaigns on June 3, 2019, CPE staff in Alberta wondered why only people over 25 years old were being targeted in B.C.

In response, an email from a campaign team member, name redacted, replied it was because “we spent about $700 a person to convert 18-24s.” The age group simply “don’t care or are actively opposed” the sender explained.

The 2019 joint TMX campaign has been criticized for spending millions of dollars for online efforts that drew a large proportion of negative responses and few

Canada, keep your eye on Alberta — it won’t be pretty, but it should be instructive

Alberta is the test bed for what Canadians will be subjected to if the Conservative Party of Canada somehow manages to get another kick at the national can.

Image: David J. Climenhaga

You can just tell it’s likely to be a crazy week in Alberta politics.

To understand just how crazy, you have to think about what the Kenney government is noisily focusing on, and what is actually happening.

In the legislature, Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party government are busy ramming through a couple of bad laws — one setting the stage for further privatization of public heath care and the continuation of the government’s mid-pandemic war on physicians, the other designed to reduce the rights of working people in the name of cutting “red tape” and to hamstring unions by smothering them in the same stuff.

Bill 30, the Health Statutes Amendment Act, will allow businesses to run medical clinics that treat doctors as employees, let private surgical clinics be fast-tracked and permit the Health Ministry to write contracts with doctors to cut the Alberta Medical Association out of the process.

As AMA president Christine Molnar asked in a letter to her members yesterday: “Could this support a scenario where all physicians’ funds for a particular specialty are given to a for-profit corporation, resulting in the physicians having no option but to seek employment from that corporation to practice their specialty in Alberta?”

Bill 32, the tendentiously named Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, would allow employers to avoid paying minimum wages, deny employees overtime pay in the form of a “work averaging” scam, and try to force unions put every single activity not defined by the government as basic labour relations to a membership vote in which each member was assumed to have opted out. The goal is to immobilize unions with red tape. The bill also includes provisions that make organizing unions harder, breaking them easier and picketing ineffective.

“I don’t, in my career as a lawyer, in this house, recall ever seeing a bill that breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as many times and in many ways as Bill 32 does,” remarked Opposition Leader Rachel Notley.

But don’t expect fulsome debate in the legislature. Both bills have already passed second reading and UCP house leader Jason Nixon has given notice the government will use closure to limit debate on both to two hours if the NDP Opposition tries too hard to illustrate the flaws of the bills in the house.

Naturally, debate is less likely to do the government harm if it’s restricted to partisans yelling at each other on social media, letting Premier Kenney get the session wrapped on Thursday.

At the same time, the government is pushing ahead with its plan to reopen schools is September with less funding than last year and no thoughtful safety plan to counter the spread of COVID-19 among children beyond a wing and a prayer that Alberta can somehow pull this off first and Kenney can look great for whatever job he plans to go after next.

Probably the only things that could stop this jerrybuilt back-to-school plan now would be a mass refusal by parents to send their kids go back, or a wildcat teachers’ strike. Both seem unlikely, but neither is impossible.

Meanwhile, the story the UCP would very much like all of us to ignore, the resurgence of COVID-19 in Alberta, proceeds apace thanks to Kenney’s hurry to be the first Canadian premier to completely reopen his province’s economy.

“The curve is no longer flat in Alberta,” said Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at yesterday afternoon’s daily COVID-19 briefing. This may sound faintly illogical, but I think we all understand what she was trying to say. To wit: the progress of the coronavirus disease is trending upward again, and if we’re not careful we’ll end up in the same fix as Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma and the other places Kenney looks to for his economic and social models.

How bad is it? Not quite as bad as some predicted on Friday, but not great. There were eight more deaths and 304 new cases on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and the highest level of active cases in the province since May 10.

Remember that with this disease infection spikes lag dumb decisions by about two weeks. The government sent large numbers of civil servants back to their offices yesterday, so we can probably expect an increase in cases as a result of that by mid August.

On the other hand, Calgary starts mandatory masking in public spaces on August 1, a policy conspicuously not supported by the UCP, but that may create an improvement by mid-month for which Kenney can claim credit.

Finally, next Monday the government plans a one-day debate on Finance Minister Travis Toews’s quarterly fiscal update, which is expected to be dire. The result, almost certainly, will be austerity, austerity and more austerity, with the possibility of another tax cut thrown in. The chances the government will acknowledge reality and impose a sales tax are, it is said here, nil.

Finally, on August 27 the government plans a one-day debate on Finance Minister Travis Toews’s quarterly fiscal update, which is expected to be dire. The result, almost certainly, will be austerity, austerity and more austerity, with the possibility of another tax cut thrown in. The chances the government will acknowledge reality and impose a sales tax are, it is said here, nil.

We Albertans, of course, are going to have to live with this stuff. But it’s important for Canadians in other provinces to pay attention to what’s happening here too.

After all, Alberta is the test bed for what they will be subjected to if the Conservative Party of Canada somehow manages to get another kick at the national can.

When Stephen Harper and the CPC were run out of power in 2015, Alberta was the place they retreated to nurse their grievances with a Confederation that didn’t see much benefit in a rigidly neoliberal future.

When Kenney, Harper’s loyal retainer and chief lieutenant in Ottawa, became premier here last year, they imagined Alberta would be the beachhead of their campaign to regain the government of Canada.

It’s hard to believe that what they’re doing here on a policy level will play in Prince Rupert, Peterborough or Pointe-Claire, but Canadians still need to be alert to what happens when ideological fervour and dangerous incompetence are mixed during a real crisis like the one caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The result isn’t pretty, as we’ve already seen south of the Medicine Line. Keep your eye on Alberta too.


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

How Alberta capitulated to Big Oil and left Albertans poorer

Image: Chris Schwarz/Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

In the coming battle to shape Canada’s post-pandemic economy, right-wing forces will likely be led by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, the closest thing we have to Donald Trump.

So it’s worth examining the fiercely pro-corporate economic model endorsed by Kenney — a self-styled populist who specializes in stirring up resentment and division — and see why we should go to great lengths to avoid it in the future.

Of course, we’re used to the mantra that the Alberta economy has been a roaring success. True, it’s been a “have” province, lecturing the rest of us on how to live within our means — a task that would have been easier if we’d all been born with abundant quantities of one of the world’s most valuable commodities under our soil.

But the real measure of success is what one makes of the hand one is dealt. And, by that measure, Alberta has been a train wreck.

Its political leaders, by allowing corporate interests to design the economy to their own benefit, have squandered the province’s vast natural wealth, leaving Alberta’s citizens with a mere fraction of what they could be enjoying today, even with the downturn in world oil prices.

Over the past two decades, more than half a trillion dollars — $528 billion — has been siphoned off by foreign shareholders who have ended up owning every major development in the oilsands, with only two small enterprises under Canadian ownership, according to a new study by University of Alberta political economist Gordon Laxer and Calgary researcher Regan Boychuk.

While the usual narrative has it that oil companies invested billions of dollars of capital to develop the oilsands, in truth, they’ve done nothing of the sort. All the investment that has gone into the oilsands over the past 23 years has effectively been paid for by the people of Alberta.

“Industry didn’t pay those costs. Albertans did,” says the report, soon to be released by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute and the Council of Canadians.

That’s because the oil companies have been operating under an extraordinarily generous regime — paying a mere one per cent royalty, and only after all costs have been deducted.

It’s a royalty regime that the companies designed themselves, the report notes.

This exceptionally favourable arrangement, begun under Premier Ralph Klein in the 1990s, was inspired by the pro-corporate revolution launched by Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and America’s Ronald Reagan.

It was a sharp departure from how the province had been operating. In the 1980s, premier Peter Lougheed had been much tougher on the oil industry, forcing it to pay a royalty of 25 per cent and even creating an energy company owned in part by the public.

Klein’s sweetheart deal for the oilsands, which remains in force today under Kenney, has amounted to a complete capitulation to Big Oil.

On the industry’s behalf, the province has also resisted action on climate change, despite producing one of the world’s dirtiest oils. And it’s allowed Big Oil to destroy Alberta’s environment, leaving a clean-up bill estimated at $260 billion, without clear evidence of who will pay for it. (Clue: so far, the province has collected only a paltry $1.6 billion from the companies to cover clean-up costs.)

Defenders of Alberta’s oil establishment hate it when critics mention Norway — understandably.

This annoying little country, also endowed with generous oil reserves and a small population, has shown how to throw a punch when it comes to dealing with Big Oil, ensuring the lion’s share of the nation’s oil wealth benefits its citizens.

By imposing a tough tax regime on oil companies (which always threaten to depart, but never actually leave the negotiating table) and setting up its own publicly owned oil company (now diversified into wind and solar power), Norway has ended up with a heritage fund worth about $1 trillion more than Alberta’s fund.

Unless we’re indifferent to money, Alberta’s management of its economy should be seen as nothing short of a disaster — something to keep in mind as Kenney and his followers push for maintaining the pro-corporate model in the post-pandemic order.

They’ll make their case with a huge megaphone and a lot of swagger, but let’s demand they explain why they left a trillion dollars on the table, and little Norway didn’t.

Linda McQuaig is a journalist and author of The Sport & Prey of Capitalists: How the Rich are Stealing Canada’s Public Wealth. This column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Ontario’s $300 million back-to-school plan fails to impress critics

The Ford government says high school students will attend class part time in September. Photo by Sam Balye on Unsplash

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government unveiled its back-to-school plan on Thursday, setting aside just over $300 million in additional funding and saying many high school students will attend class part time.

The details have been long-awaited by parents, teachers and administrators wondering how learning can safely restart in September, as Ontario emerges from the shadow of COVID-19.

But the spending failed to impress education unions, opposition critics and school boards worried about how to keep teachers and students safe.

“It’s deeply disappointing,” said Marit Stiles, the Ontario NDP’s education critic. “It’s definitely not what I think most parents, students, teachers or other education workers were hoping for today.”

The four main education unions, representing around 200,000 education workers, said in a joint statement that the plan and the budget to achieve it was risking public safety by “severely underfunding a safe return to school in September.”

It remains to be seen how many teachers are willing to return to classes under these conditions.

The government said elementary schoolchildren from kindergarten to Grade 8 will attend school five days a week, with one cohort for the full day, including recess and lunch.

It said enhanced health and safety protocols would be in place and boards would be expected to provide the full range of elementary curriculum.

It did not define a maximum number of students per elementary cohort, and an official said schools would be advised to aim for the province’s mandated average class size, which is more than 24 for Grades 4-8.

“What this announcement does is it sends our smallest children back to the same size classrooms they were in before,” Stiles said. “It’s a status quo return, with no additional supports for those littlest ones to ensure they, their families and the staff that work with them are kept safe and healthy.”

Secondary students in most major school boards will attend class every second day, or in some other half-half arrangement, in cohorts of around 15, the government said. It encouraged schools to create timetables that limit the amount of contact between students, including staggered lunch breaks.

Ontario high school students will attend class part-time come September, while elementary students will be full-time in full-size classes

High school students will have hybrid online/in-person classes in both public and Catholic school boards in Toronto and across the wider GTA as well as Ottawa, Hamilton, Waterloo, Windsor and the Niagara region.

Students from Grade 4 up will be required to wear masks while at school, while younger students will be encouraged to do so in common areas.

Guidance provided to boards said students should be limited to approximately 50 direct and indirect contacts in schools.

The NDP’s Stiles said the fact that the plan doesn’t address the needs of teachers and other staff who are immunocompromised, or for anyone who lives with someone who is more likely to fare poorly if they contract COVID-19, is “another glaring absence.”

Ford implored as many teachers as possible to return to class.

“We really, really need them,” he said. “The parents need them, the province needs them. We all need the teachers to come into the class when possible.”

The Ford government had just reached collective agreements with education unions after a bitter war of words and intermittent strike action in the weeks before the pandemic closed schools for good.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that teachers can choose not to work in the classroom due to health and safety concerns but that “there has to be a value proposition for our students and the taxpayers of our province.”

“We can provide that safe space for them to do so, to support the many students who will require virtual learning,” he said, referring to the adapted model for secondary schools, and tailored learning for higher-risk communities and any parents who keep their children home.

The government plan says parents can choose to instead use remote learning delivered by school boards, with teachers required to load resources into a database that allows for synchronous learning.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Premier Doug Ford at swearing-in ceremony for cabinet shuffle on June 20, 2019. Photo by Cole Burston

In a Toronto District School Board planning document released earlier this month, the province’s largest school board said it would need to hire nearly 2,500 more teachers at a cost of almost $250 million in order to teach elementary students full time in groups of 15.

Smaller class sizes allows for more physical distancing, which helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The government also expects schools to maintain detailed records about students and visitors that, in case of an outbreak, they would share with public health authorities to help with contact tracing.

The government’s $309-million budget for the reopening plan includes $80 million to hire additional staff and $60 million for masks and other personal protective equipment, which it will be providing for teachers and other school staff.

The government said it expects cleaning supplies for all schools across the province to add another $25 million, with $50 million to cover the hiring of up to 500 more public health nurses. The plan provides $40 million for cleaning supplies and protective equipment for transportation.

The budget also includes almost $24 million for lab testing capacity and $10 million each for health and safety training, additional mental health supports, and additional supports for students with special needs.

By comparison, the Liberals released a mock budget earlier this week that would have allocated $3.2 billion in pandemic-specific spending, including a plan to hire 15,000 elementary teachers at a cost of $1.3 billion.

“Parents across Ontario have been waiting anxiously for a plan to reopen schools safely – today they got one written on the back of a napkin,” Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said in a statement. “None of the concerns parents raised have been addressed. None.”


Alastair Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Lack of bees limiting crop yields across U.S., B.C., study finds

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A bee gathers pollen from a flower in a Montreal park on Tuesday, July 30, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson

A lack of wild bees and managed honey bees is limiting pollination and yields for certain crops on farms in British Columbia and across the United States, a collective of researchers has found.

Their study published Tuesday in the Royal Society’s journal Biological Sciences used data from more than 130 farms to assess the pollination of crop flowers and yield for apples, highbush blueberries, sweet and tart cherries, almonds, pumpkins and watermelon.

Of those crops, the study found five frequently showed evidence of pollinator limitation, suggesting that the protection of wild bees and greater investment in honey bee colonies is likely to boost yields.

It notes that crops dependent on pollinators generate more than US$50 billion each year in the United States and declining bee populations raise concerns about food security in years to come.

The researchers collaborated to gain a “comprehensive understanding of our reliance on a lot of these pollinators for these really vitamin rich, nutritionally rich foods,” said Kyle Bobiwash, a co-author and assistant professor in the department of entomology at the University of Manitoba.

Blueberry crops in B.C. were among those most affected by limited pollination, said Bobiwash.

On some farms, he said, “there was a tremendous amount of pollen limitation, meaning there were a lot of flowers not actually getting pollinated sufficiently to set fruit.”

But the results varied by farm, said Bobiwash, noting he was involved in earlier research that showed some farms where crops had better pollination boosted yields by as much as 30 per cent.

“It amounted to thousands and thousands of dollars per acre, just because they had slightly better bee populations than other farms.”

Better pollination can also produce heavier, more juicy and likely tastier berries, he said.

“If you have a lot of pollen and you’re setting a lot more seed, you really invigorate this berry and you get all those biochemical processes happening. So, it’s going to gain more water (and) sugar, it’s going to produce more secondary metabolites, which are the little flavour compounds.”

A lack of wild bees and managed honey bees is limiting pollination and yields for certain crops on farms in British Columbia and across the United States, a collective of researchers has found.

Global demand for crops that are dependent on pollinators has increased, said Bobiwash, while the development of those crops often cuts into bee habitat.

At the same time, he said, climate change could affect the close relationship between plants and pollinators.

“As temperatures warm, plants might respond by blooming earlier (and) bees might respond by emerging earlier. But that’s not guaranteed,” said Bobiwash.

“We might have a plant blooming before the pollinators it evolved with emerge.”

Increasing pollination and crop yield isn’t as simple as bringing more honey bees to every farm, said Bobiwash. While the study showed different bees provided comparable amounts of pollination for most crops, he said some responded best to honey bees, such as almonds in California, and others benefited most from wild bees.

The results of the study point to the importance of protecting and enhancing habitat for wild bees, which could include wildflowers and certain weeds that farmers would normally remove, he said.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 29, 2020.


How to create a wild bee sanctuary

41 states have reduced their carbon emissions while growing their economies

It’s possible for the U.S. to decouple emissions growth from economic growth.

[Source Images: iStock]

The U.S. needs a massive economic boost to recover from the coronavirus crisis, but how that boost happens will be crucial not just to the economy, but to the climate. A green COVID-19 recovery will create jobs and make the country even more resilient against a volatile future. This might sound like an impossible demand to put on the much-needed recovery, but in recent years most states have already shown that this is economically possible. Since 2005, 41 states and Washington, D.C., have increased their GDPs while reducing their carbon emissions, debunking the myth that economic growth can only happen at the expense of our environment.

new report from World Resources Institute (WR) analyzes how states have decoupled their GDP growth from emissions, which Devashree Saha, a senior associate at WRI, says is “a hopeful sign for the United States and for the planet.” From 2005 to 2018, the country’s overall GDP increased by 25%, while energy-related carbon dioxide emissions fell 12%, because of the shift from coal to gas power, the rapid deployment of renewable energy technology, and the progress made in vehicle emission standards. The difference is even greater in certain states: Massachusetts grew its GDP by 26% and reduced emissions by 25%, and South Carolina grew its GDP by 21% while dropping emissions 20%.

All major geographical regions had states that were able to accomplish this to some extent, but there were a few individual outliers. Nine states did not decouple their emissions from their economic growth—Louisiana, Texas, Washington, Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Idaho—and in a few cases, some saw a significant increase in emissions. Idaho grew its GDP by 22% but also increased emissions 17% between 2005 and 2017. Despite Washington’s strong climate initiatives, emissions there still increased by 4%. Those emissions are low relative to their GDP, but this increase could in part be due to more natural gas use or higher transportation-related emissions.

The states that have been taking the biggest actions on climate change often see the most substantial economic gains, but overall, they still have not done enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals. “It’s great that 41 states have decoupled, but how much more do we have to do? This analysis shows that retiring coal in favor of gas has been a very important factor in reducing power sector emissions, but we are facing the next set of challenges, which is how do we switch from natural gas to other sources of energy like wind and solar?” she says. If we want to keep reducing carbon dioxide emissions even further, she adds, then we also have to look at other sectors of the economy like transportation and buildings.

The time to tackle those next challenges is now, with the help of federal action. State and local governments have been the leaders to advance climate action so far, but the progress is too slow. “Economic recovery in the shadow of COVID-19 provides an opportunity for the federal government to renew its commitment to low carbon investment and climate policy,” Saha says.

And the longer we wait to take climate action, the worse off we will be, economically and in terms of our health. “Just like COVID-19, climate change is a threat multiplier,” Saha says. Left unchecked, it will lead to more heat-related deaths, sea level rise, stronger and more frequent storms—which will damage infrastructure including bridges, roads, and buildings—which will all have an effect on our economy. Air pollution alone is estimated to cause more than 100,000 premature deaths in the U.S. each year, costing the country about 5% of its GDP in annual damages.

Transitioning to renewable energy may not be easy for every state, and the report stresses that our green recovery must be inclusive and equitable for all Americans—meaning no one is left behind and that everyone, including low-income and minority Americans, benefits from a low-carbon economy. COVID-19 has disrupted all parts of our economy, even the clean energy sector, but still: “The critical question is not whether we have to rebuild, but how do we rebuild the U.S economy?” Saha says. “Investment in low carbon infrastructure and focusing on climate policies is going to be win-win for the U.S. economy not only in the near term, but it’s going to set up the economy for long-term prosperity.”


It’s time for America to reassert climate leadership. It starts with voting

Individual efforts are important, but we need collective action and systemic change. And we can only get that at the ballot

Jane Fonda at a protest calling attention to the climate crisis in Washington in January. ‘Your vote will reverberate for years.’ Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

In a world with so many problems, it’s easy to feel helpless. And particularly right now in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, quite alone. But even as we practice social distancing, we have an opportunity to work together to solve the greatest problem that humanity faces. No, I’m not talking about coronavirus. I’m talking about climate change.

As a climate scientist, I’m often asked what people can do about climate change, a problem so pervasive and impactful that literally all the rest of humanity’s problems play out upon its landscape. But there is no one specific answer, no magic bullet. Everyone has something different to contribute. And that’s the challenge. We must each find what we’re passionate about, capable of and good at. And we must all find our voice.

For some, that means organizing and attending local protests to put pressure on politicians, or participating in clean-up efforts that require nothing more than some gloves and trash bags. For others, it means supporting environmental organizations. It can mean working with businesses to reduce pollution or researching new technologies. Artists, celebrities and opinion leaders can use their platforms to educate, motivate and elevate others to join the cause. And we can change our lifestyle to lower our individual carbon footprint – eating less meat or going electric.

Our efforts as individuals are important. But alone they cannot solve this problem. We need collective action and systemic change. We need policies to incentive the decarbonization of our society. That requires politicians willing to support climate-friendly policies. And the only way we get them is by voting.

Voting is a moment of activism that can have a years-long impact. Just look at the Trump administration. Slim minorities in a handful of states by just over a quarter of eligible voters resulted in a president, Donald Trump, who threatens our entire planet. Trump stocked his administration with polluters and lobbyists who took the regulatory reins off their pals in the oil and gas industry. His administration has slowly but steadily dismantled a half century of environmental progress.

In the space of a few years Trump has erased America’s leadership and moral standing. His threat to withdraw from the Paris agreement (which he can’t actually make good on if he loses the upcoming election), has provided an excuse for other major emitters such as China to ease off in their own decarbonization efforts. The result has been a surge of fossil fuel pollution that will remain in the global atmosphere for thousands of years, impacting everyone on Earth.

Yet there is reason for cautious optimism that we can still right this ship. Because no sooner than Trump was elected were others organizing to mitigate the damage he has done. For example, in response to his decision that he would pull the US out of the Paris agreement, climate action became a priority from the ground up. A coalition quickly formed between mayors and governors both red and blue, CEOs, university presidents and faith leaders of all types to tell the world that they remained dedicated to the climate fight.

Since then, they’ve demonstrated exactly how powerful we can be when we work together for a common goal. This coalition represents nearly 70% of US GDP and over half of our emissions and alone is on track to cut US emissions by 25% by 2030. If cities, states, businesses and all other non-federal institutions made maximum effort to curtail their emissions the US could reach a nearly 40% reduction by 2030.

So what can you do to advance action on climate change?

Well, you can look for local organizations that may need help. You can join, or donate to, any number of worthy local or national charities that speak to the combination of what you love to do and what you want to protect.

And you can vote. On climate. From president to police commissioner.

Your vote will reverberate for years, as the efforts that have grown in the dark shade of the Trump administration are poised to bloom with a President Joe Biden, a climate-friendly Congress and state and local politicians who favor climate action. Strong majorities of voters want action on climate to be part of recovery efforts that grow our economy. Across the country, youth activists have lit a beacon of moral clarity that demands action in response to science.

In Congress, House Democrats just released their report on the climate crisis, and are ready to turn it into action, while the Biden campaign has just released a robust new climate platform that, if enacted, would put us on solid footing to win the climate fight. Though it may not be perfect, it’s the strongest climate call ever put forward by a Democratic party nominee for president, and will quite literally mean a world of difference compared to the Trump agenda.

Despite the environmental hostility of the current Washington power brokers, local leaders have laid the groundwork for success. All we need now is for the federal government to do its job, and serve as a powerful centralized force to protect us.

And all that takes is a vote. In November.


Michael E Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University. He is author of the upcoming book The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, due out in January (Public Affairs Books)


Trump’s New Favorite COVID Doctor Believes in Alien DNA, Demon Sperm, and Hydroxychloroquine


A Houston doctor who praises hydroxychloroquine and says that face masks aren’t necessary to stop transmission of the highly contagious coronavirus has become a star on the right-wing internet, garnering tens of millions of views on Facebook on Monday alone. Donald Trump Jr. declared the video of Stella Immanuel a “must watch,” while Donald Trump himself retweeted the video.

Before Trump and his supporters embrace Immanuel’s medical expertise, though, they should consider other medical claims Immanuel has made—including those about alien DNA and the physical effects of having sex with witches and demons in your dreams.

Immanuel, a pediatrician and a religious minister, has a history of making bizarre claims about medical topics and other issues. She has often claimed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are in fact caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.

She alleges alien DNA is currently used in medical treatments, and that scientists are cooking up a vaccine to prevent people from being religious. And, despite appearing in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress on Monday, she has said that the government is run in part not by humans but by “reptilians” and other aliens.

Immanuel gave her viral speech on the steps of the Supreme Court at the “White Coat Summit,” a gathering of a handful of doctors who call themselves America’s Frontline Doctors and dispute the medical consensus on the novel coronavirus. The event was organized by the right-wing group Tea Party Patriots, which is backed by wealthy Republican donors.

In her speech, Immanuel alleges that she has successfully treated hundreds of patients with hydroxychloroquine, a controversial treatment Trump has promoted and says he has taken himself. Studies have failed to find proof that the drug has any benefit in treating COVID-19, and the Food and Drug Administration in June revoked its emergency authorization to use it to treat the deadly virus, saying it hadn’t demonstrated any effect on patients’ mortality prospects.

“Nobody needs to get sick,” Immanuel said. “This virus has a cure.”


Trump promoted a doctor. Watch what she said about demons