After COVID-19 passes, our future will depend on whether governments prevent or permit more environmental vandalism by large corporations

Image: SD-Pictures/Pixabay

Recent photos taken by astronauts in the orbiting space station show an amazing improvement in Earth’s atmosphere. The sharp reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from factories, motor vehicles, ships, planes and fossil fuels reveals a planetary surface whose clarity had been obscured by industrial pollutants.

This long-delayed abatement of global warming stems from the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a world-wide pestilence that could have been averted if humans had heeded the repeated warnings of scientists to stop contaminating the planet’s water, soil and atmosphere. Mother Earth would then not have been compelled to take such extreme curative measures in self-defense.

The April issue of National Geographic offers two projected forecasts of the future that awaits humankind — one from a pessimistic outlook and one from an optimistic outlook.

Having perused these two conflicting perspectives, I think they might better be described as either realistic or idealistic.

The pessimist’s case — titled “Why We Won’t Avoid a Climate Catastrophe” — is co-edited by Elizabeth Kolbert, a New Yorker staff writer and Pulitzer-winning author of The Sixth ExtinctionAn Unnatural History.

Many of the facts and figures she and other realists cite in this special National Geographic edition are listed below:

    • Today there are nearly eight billion people and some 1.5 billion vehicles on the planet. Over the past 50 years, global oil consumption has more than doubled, as has fossil-fuel power usage.
    • Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries. So, even if we were to start cutting emissions today, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the extent of climate change would continue to increase.
    • At least 680 vertebrate species have gone extinct in the past 500 years, with the extinction rate accelerating faster in the past century. The wild populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians have shrunk, on average, by 60 per cent since 1970. There are now some three billion fewer birds in North America, and the biomass of flying insects has dropped to an alarming extent, by as much as 70 per cent in some countries.
    • The essential, interconnected web of life is getting increasingly frayed. Biodiversity is essential for human existence. About three-quarters of all food crops, for example, rely on pollinators — birds, bats, and, in the vast majority of cases, on bees, ants and other insects.
    • Humans took 92.5 million metric tons of fish from the oceans in 2017. Fishing fleets have increased in size and power, but, as a result of overfishing, they have to work five times as hard as they did in 1950 to catch the same amount of fish. This is an obvious indication that far fewer fish are now left to catch.
    • The extent of marine plastic pollution threatens the viability of hundreds of species, including 86 per cent of marine turtles.
    • To feed, house, and provide energy for our surging population, we’ve appropriated ever more of the world’s resources for ourselves. People have significantly altered three-quarters of the ice-free land on Earth. All around the globe, farming has become more intensive, and with it deforestation and the loss of more than 85 percent of the world’s wetlands area.
    • The Arctic ice cap has shrunk by more than a million square miles, with rising sea levels already causing floods in low-lying regions like the Marshall Islands and the Maldives – and even in Florida, Virginia, and South Carolina in the United States.
    • Flooding, however, is just one of the unfortunate consequences of global warming. A warmer world is also racked by deeper droughts, fiercer storms, and larger and more intense forest fires. Fifty years ago, such mega-blazes were rare. Now there are dozens of enormous fires every year that consume 100,000 acres or more — in Europe, the U.S., Australia, Canada, Siberia and elsewhere. Also steadily increasing are land degradation, coral bleaching, deadly heat waves, and the expansion of marine dead zones.

The optimist’s case — titled “Why we’ll succeed in saving the planet from climate change” — is outlined by Kolbert’s co-editor, Emma Marris, who argues that we already have the tools to feed a larger population, provide energy for everyone, reverse climate change and prevent most additional extinctions. Following are the highlights of her upbeat outlook:

“What gives me hope? … The public desire for action is bursting forth on the streets. Last September, some six million people worldwide went on a ‘climate strike’ … The electric crackle of cultural change is once again in the air.

“We cannot undo what we’ve done; we cannot go back in time. Change — ecological, economic, social — is inevitable … We will change, too. Many of us will learn to see ourselves as one species among many — a part of nature, not in opposition to it.

“Our biggest shared challenge is climate change. If it seems overwhelming, it’s in part because we, as individuals, can’t stop it. Even if we’re perfect green consumers — refusing to fly, reusing shopping bags, going vegan — we’re trapped in a system that makes it impossible to stop adding to the problem. 

“Living requires eating, getting to work, and staying warm enough in winter and cool enough in summer to work and sleep. For now, it’s impossible to do these things in most places without emitting carbon. But change can happen faster than many people appreciate . . . With popular will and the right policies, we’ll have no problem creating new energy and transportation infrastructures, goods made without toxins or carbon emissions, biodegradable plastic substitutes.”

“You may have heard that we are in the sixth mass extinction . . . (But) new research suggests most species can be saved and wildlife restored to higher abundances with a combination of more parks and protected areas, restoration of some ecosystems, and a reduction in farmland. Agriculture currently uses a third of Earth’s land. But if we cut meat eating and food waste in half, increase crop yields, and trade food more efficiently, the researchers estimate, we could grow all the food we need on less land. That would create more space for other species.”

Other contributors to the optimist’s section acclaim the increase in renewable energy such as wind and solar power; the education of more people — especially girls — in under-developed nations; the alleged greater access to clean water, nutrition and electricity; and the many more people who are living longer.

The vast increase in the number of young people who have become social and environmental activists — notably climate change protester Greta Thunberg — have helped give green policies a higher priority for many governments and political parties.

Three formidable barriers 

Although the uprise in planet-saving activism is to be applauded and encouraged, the prospect that it can actually prod the world’s economic and political leaders to join such a global save-the-planet crusade remains highly unlikely. Their acclaim for the activists has been strictly verbal, with no sign that it will ever be transmuted into corporate and political activism. There are three major impediments to their becoming genuine green activists.

1. Capitalism  

The uncontrolled form of capitalism that now girdles the globe and contaminates the climate is firmly committed to a voracious economic system that, left unchecked, will eventually (and sooner rather than than later) destroy civilization as we know it. This is an obvious and uncontestable reality.

Do the business barons who pursue this economic frenzy know what they are doing? Most of them surely do. They’re not stupid. But even though they are aware they are driving a runaway economic express to the abyss, they can’t stop it on their own. Their legal charters and corporate mandates make the maximization of profits and shareholder dividends their one and only objective. This fixation trumps everything else, regardless of the ultimate catastrophic consequences.

Any CEO who deliberately incurred a shrinkage of profits for equitable or ethical reasons would be turfed out of office by his board of directors and major shareholders. Otherwise, in such a competitive arena, the company would soon be taken over by a more ruthless competitor.

In any case, the primacy of profit-making is enshrined in the laws that cover business operations. That was made clear in the Peoples Department Stores Inc. (Trustee of) v. Wise case in 2004, when Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that directors and officers “owe their fiduciary obligations to the corporation, and the corporations’ interests are not to be confused with the interests of the creditors or those of any other stakeholder.”

And there you have it. Any CEO or board of directors so reckless as to deviate from the pursuit of profits for any other reason — for the benefit of workers, consumers, society as a whole, or even the planet — would promptly be sued under this ruling, or have the company exposed to a hostile takeover.

Further compounding this legal barrier is the stark reality that capitalism could not survive the creation of a pollution-free world. It’s an economic system that depends on the perpetual burning of fossil fuels, the ongoing extraction of non-renewable resources and a ruthless distribution of wealth that enriches a privileged few and impoverishes more than half the planet’s inhabitants.

In short, the preservation of capitalism as the world’s predominant economic system is incompatible with the attainment of a clean and viable climate.

2. The servility of governments

There was a time, long ago, when governments controlled and limited corporations’ activities, even confining each of them to a specific industry and operating under strict rules and regulations. They were not permitted to own newspapers, magazines or, later, radio and television networks. They were also banned from involvement in politics and education.

How times have changed! The escalating power of large corporations over the past 150 years, along with the rise of conservative neoliberalism and free trade, has freed them from virtually all political constraints. So dominant have they become — financially, globally and politically — that their relationship with governments has been reversed.

Instead of governments controlling them, they now control most governments, whose leaders now would never dare challenge rampant corporate profiteering and the widespread poverty and inequality it inflicts on billions of people. Even worse are the devastating effects of pollution and global warming that it heaps on the environment.

3. Time    

Ecologists began sounding the alarm about excessive economic growth and global warming back in the 1950s. Had the world’s political leaders listened to them then — before they were converted into capitalist flunkies — and promptly implemented the necessary preventive and precautionary measures, the current environmental crisis could have been averted.

But, apart from holding a series of “climate summits” whose ineffectual pledges to curb global warming were never intended to be seriously acted upon, the world’s political leaders remained idle while the cohorts of capitalism kept running amok.

Their pollution of the planet has been allayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly reduced the operation of their toxic-emitting factories, farms, fossil fuels and deforestation. But when the pestilence passes, as it eventually will after several more months of anguish, deprivation and fatalities, how many will learn from this painful lesson and mend their environmentally damaging ways?

Certainly not the owners and investors of the big corporations. They will resume their planet-wrecking as quickly as they are permitted to do so. The environmental activists, on the other hand, can be counted on to regroup and reactivate their planet-saving campaign, and with the support of many additional thousands of people who now see the urgency of preventing further global warming.

But time is fast running out. There may be only another decade or so left before the tipping-point is reached, beyond which additional rescue efforts become futile. Still, that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Although corporate officials and investors can never be swayed, the possibility remains, however faint, that elected politicians enlightened by the pandemic will finally shed their subservience to capitalism. And then quickly strip the corporations of their power to destroy humankind’s future.

A fantasy? Maybe. But, unless the world’s political leaders put an end to capitalist rule, capitalist rule will put an end to most of the world’s inhabitants.

Let’s hope our political leaders can be prevailed upon to make the right choice.

SOURCE

‘Shut it down’: Yukon First Nations call for halt to mining operations in light of coronavirus

‘Economic imperatives cannot be placed above the health and safety of our people,’ says Na-cho Nyak Dun chief, but territory deems mining an essential service

Despite restrictions set in place to curb physical contact among Yukoners during the COVID-19 pandemic, the territory’s two producing mines continue to plug along, stirring concern among nearby First Nations.

White River First Nation called on Yukon Premier Sandy Silver to stop mining activity in the territory this week. White River lands director Janet VanderMeer told The Narwhal that resources should be geared toward the health and safety of citizens, not the extractive industry.

Her concern is that keeping Minto Mine, located roughly 240 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, and others running will bring in more workers from outside the territory, increasing the risk of locals coming into contact with the virus. That’s why all exploration and staking in the First Nation’s traditional territory should stop, VanderMeer said.

“Shut it down, let’s move on and that’s it,” she said. “Reassess in 30 days.”

In a written statement, John Brim, CEO of Minto Management Ltd., said the copper-gold mine continues to operate in step with COVID-19 orders. He declined to be interviewed.

The Yukon government released guidelines for work camps earlier this week, instituting a mandatory 14-day self-isolation period for those who leave Yukon and intend to return to a site. Other measures include ensuring food is handled safely, practising social distancing and limiting contact with co-workers.

“We have to take the word of the company,” VanderMeer said. “We have to trust them, that they will incorporate these guidelines into what they do. The reality on the ground is a lot different than a damn piece of paper. I don’t trust them.”

She added that the First Nation wasn’t consulted on the guidelines.

“It’s one of the red flags,” she said, noting she has yet to hear back from the Yukon government since sending a letter urging a pause on mining to the premier on Monday. MORE

Heiltsuk First Nation urges outsiders to stay away after yachts arrive during B.C. coronavirus lockdown

The remote coastal community of Bella Bella, B.C., home to roughly 1,400 people, has little capacity to take care of its own residents with just one ventilator and only two doctors

Several yachts, flying both Canadian and U.S. flags, have recently arrived in the community of Bella Bella, B.C. Here, yachts and other boats are pictured at the Shearwater Resort and Marina dock in September 2019. Photo: Louise Whitehouse / The Narwhal

The community of Bella Bella, B.C., is on lockdown. No one is coming in or out; even Heiltsuk First Nation members who live out of the territory are being asked to stay away for the moment.

But that hasn’t stopped the yachts.

“I’ve just watched five yachts pull into the Shearwater harbour,” says Megan Humchitt, a band councillor with Heiltsuk First Nation. “Which is quite concerning, since we do have a travel advisory in place.”

The travel advisory has been in place for more than two weeks. It tells non-residents they will be turned away. The community will also be broadcasting over VHF radio to inform boaters of the bylaw.

“We’re asking that non-residents — tourists or visitors — do not come to Heiltsuk territory because it puts a strain on our limited resources,” Humchitt says.

Jess Housty, Heiltsuk member and executive director of the Qqs Project Society, a youth, culture and environment non-profit in Bella Bella, took to Twitter to criticize the unwelcome arrivals, saying, “you shouldn’t be trying to draw down on our limited resources.”

Jess Housty@jesshousty

If you can afford a yacht, you can afford to stay the fuck away from my remote community. You shouldn’t be trying to draw down on our limited resources OR potentially introducing COVID here. We’re not risking the lives of our elders to supply you in your pandemic pleasure cruise.

“If there was an outbreak, only one person would be able to get that kind of care in the community,” says Dan Bertrand, a director of the Central Coast Regional District.

Any evacuation from a place like Bella Bella or nearby Klemtu or Rivers Inlet would have to be done by plane, which is highly dependent on weather.

So far the central coast has not seen any cases of COVID-19, but the fear of epidemics runs deep here, where entire villages were once wiped out by foreign diseases brought by outsiders.

“It’s only going to increase, because people are looking to be in places where they feel safe.”

“It’s a scary thought that those numbers could increase exponentially, and we don’t have the resources to take care of them,” Humchitt says. “We hardly have the resources to take care of ourselves.”

Bella Bella is a frequent stopover for yachters navigating the Inside Passage between Seattle and Alaska, and a popular destination in its own right by central coast standards. But it’s not the only community seeing yachters; Bertrand says Rivers Inlet, Ocean Falls and Bella Coola have all been visited as well. In the case of Bella Coola, one person even sped through a checkpoint the Nuxalk First Nation had set up outside the community without slowing down. MORE

 

Editorial: The Guardian view on Europe’s green deal: stick to the plan

The cost and impact of coronavirus will imperil necessary action on the climate emergency. Towns and cities must use their collective imaginations to make a difference

A plan of Merwede, a car-free area residential district in Utrecht, designed to house 12,000 people. Photograph: Okra, marco.broekman

Difficult and almost impossibly daunting as it may seem, the world is faced with not one but two existential crises and two races against time: the coronavirus and the climate emergency. Dealing with both is going to require extraordinary focus and resolution.

Already there is a whiff of political opportunism in the air. Last week, the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babiš, said that the €1tn European Green Deal, unveiled and enshrined in law by the European commission barely three weeks ago, should be put to one side. Member states, he advised, should concentrate all resources on combating a pandemic which, one by one, is shutting down societies and economies. Along with other eastern European states such as Poland, the Czech government has been reluctant to acknowledge the scale of action required to combat global heating, which would have a severe impact on fossil fuel industries in their countries.

The extreme urgency of defeating Covid-19 scarcely needs stating. But Mr Babiš’s broader suggestion has been rightly rejected. “This is one of the very reasons why we presented the climate change law: to avoid that climate action, a generational task, is obfuscated by more pressing and immediate challenges,” said a Brussels spokesman. Frans Timmermans, the Dutch commissioner who is leading the EU response on the climate emergency, has made the same point.

Mr Timmermans has said that the climate law will act as a ‘“compass” for the next 30 years as EU member states seek sustainable forms of growth. In these extraordinary times, local imagination and creativity in developing a sustainable future will be at a premium. There are at least some hopeful signs that such thinking is taking place.

In the city of Utrecht, plans have been unveiled for the largest purpose-built pedestrianised residential area in Europe, which will attempt to harness the virtues of the sharing economy. The Merwede estate will house 12,000 people on a 60-acre site. Transport will be provided by bus and train networks and a shared pool of bikes and cars – one car for every three families. Schools, shops, sports and medical services will all be within walking distance, and water from the local canal will be used to heat the area. The intention is for the district to become close to energy neutral.

Utrecht is one of the fastest-growing cities in the Netherlands and is projected to add 100,000 people to its 350,000 population by 2040. In terms of factoring in a necessary environmental dimension to new construction, Merwede looks like best practice. It is the kind of project that is relatively small scale, but repeatable. It helps of course that the Dutch have a historically passionate relationship with the bicycle. But as the EU attempts to hold the line on implementing its green deal, many more Utrechts will be required. SOURCE

Courtney Howard: Healthy Planet, Healthy People


For too long we’ve put health and the environment in different boxes. The work of our generation is to bridge the two, to understand that in fact, they belong in the same box–that planetary health defines human health–and that as we improve one, we will improve the other as well.

Planetary Health and Personal Health are all connected as we are being shown around our world today. Our challenge is to use all our resources to save lives by treating Covid-19 like a sprint and Climate Change like a marathon. We can do both and come out of this with a prognosis for a much healthier civilization and planet. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/home #fridaysforfuture

Ecocide Explains How Humans Are Actively Destroying the Environment

“Ecocide” is the destruction of a specific natural environment by dangerous human activity. We break down the history of the term and why it’s suddenly everywhere.

Demonstrators wear skull masks during a mass climate march to demand urgent action on the climate crisis from world...

GABRIEL BOUYS

“Ecocide,” a term coined 50 years ago, is the destruction of a specific natural environment by dangerous human activity. Though the word isn’t new, it entered the mainstream in a big way over the past year. Everyone from the supermodel Cara Delevingne to Pope Francis to Meghan Markle have used it to describe our current climate crisis, and activists are pushing for ecocide to be recognized as an international crime.

But what’s the history of this term, and why has it suddenly surged in popularity? Let’s break it down

In February 1970, Yale biologist Arthur Galston attended a Washington, D.C., conference organized to discuss possible war crimes committed by the United States in Vietnam. There, Galston raised concerns over “Operation Ranch Hand,” a U.S. military operation where U.S. Air Force planes sprayed around herbicides called Agent Orange over South Vietnam. For Galston, not only did Agent Orange have a dangerous effect on people, but its use was disastrous for the Vietnamese environment. The use of Agent Orange was a form of environmental warfare, and he wanted to define it as such.

Enter “ecocide.”

Two years later, Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme used the term in a speech, denouncing the U.S. involvement in Vietnam: “It is of paramount importance,” Palme said, “that ecological warfare cease immediately.” (The Vietnam War wouldn’t end for another three years.) From there, the idea of “ecocide” continued to pick up steam, but mostly in the context of warfare.

In the 1980s and 1990s, diplomats worked to establish the parameters of international crimes. Ecocide was included in some drafts, but eventually left out in 1998 when 137 nations signed on to the Rome Statute, establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC recognized three international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. (In 2017, it added the crime of aggression), but there is only a single mention of the environment in the entirety of the Rome Statute: war crimes include “intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause […]widespread, long-term, and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive.”

Flash forward two decades: enter Polly Higgins, Scottish environmental lawyer and activist. In 2008, she began campaigning for recognition of ecocide as an international crime and, in 2010, proposed that the United Nations add ecocide to the Rome Statute.

Higgins defined ecocide differently than Galston; for her, ecocide wasn’t a byproduct of war, but something that could occur at any time. Her proposed definition of ecocide was: “The extensive damage to, destruction of, or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by any other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.” Higgins argued that the amendment would have a powerful impact, creating accountability for states and corporations.

Sadly, the trailblazing activist passed away in 2019 at the age of 50 after a fight with cancer. But her fight for the international community to recognize ecocide as a crime did not end with her death — it actually helped bring ecocide back into the spotlight.

“Two sovereign states called for serious consideration of an international crime of ecocide at the International Criminal Court’s annual assembly in December. The significance of this cannot be overstated,” Jojo Mehta, co-founder of the Stop Ecocide campaign, told Teen Vogue. “Twenty-five years of climate negotiations have failed to stop corporations [from] polluting. But a crime of ecocide is not about negotiation; it’s about jail time for destroying the planet. It’s a real deterrent — with teeth.”

As the examples of climate disaster pile up, the word appears to be here to stay.

Oxford Dictionary’s 2019 Word of the Year shortlist was entirely climate-focused, and included ecocide, which saw a 680% increase in frequency of use over 2019. (Oxford chose “climate emergency” as its word of the year.) “Ecocide” has become a mainstay in our discourse on the climate crisis, used by groups ranging from the Youth Climate Strikers to Extinction Rebellion.

In Brazil, fury over the continued destruction of the Amazon fueled calls to codify ecocide into international law. Far-right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who began his term on January 1, 2019, has called to restrict the rights of indigenous Brazilians to live in designated parts of the Amazon rainforest in an effort to open those areas up for development. “Imagine Jair Bolsonaro Standing Trial for Ecocide at The Hague,” one New York Times headline proclaimed. “Brazil’s President is committing ecocide. We must stop him,” the Globe and Mail wrote. Even French President Emmanuel Macron called what was happening in the Amazon “a real ecocide.”

Last month, indigenous Brazilian leaders issued a manifesto condemning Bolsonaro’s policies, stating, “We were convened by Chief Raoni [Metukire] with the goal of coming together and denouncing that a political project by the Brazilian government of genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide is underway.”

Similarly, in Bolivia, in August and September, then President Evo Morales’s efforts to boost agricultural production contributed to raging wildfires. “What is happening, it’s really ecocide,” Pablo Solón Romero, former Bolivian ambassador to the U.N., told VICE News. Nearly half the destruction has impacted environmentally protected areas, mainly the Ñembi Guasu Reserve, home to the indigenous Ayoreo people (a group living in voluntary isolation).

“These are not wildfires; they are criminal fires that have been started to turn forest into pasture,” wrote Amherst College professor Manuela Picq in September 2019. “If Bolivia’s government does not stop the fires, it will have not only ecocide, but genocide on its hands.” Picq argues that in the future, Bolsonaro and Morales may face charges for ecocide — and ecocide is difficult to separate from genocide.

In Australia, where the fires were attributed largely to extreme heat and dryness caused by climate change rather than specific government policy, the severity of the fires has manymany people calling what occurred in Australia to be ecocide.

At a Fire Drill Friday protest on January 13, 2020, actor Jane Fonda introduced Ta’Sina Sapa Win Smith, who spoke about the Keystone XL pipeline. “It is time now that we rise up,” she said. “Rise up and stand with the original caretakers of these lands, the indigenous people. Rise up and stand against cultural genocide, ecocide, environmental catastrophes, and illegal resource extractions.”

Fifty years after the term was coined, ecocide has truly gone global, threatening the future of our planet and its inhabitants. SOURCE

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Five ways to connect with nature while stuck inside during COVID-19

Newfoundland offshore drilling: a case of bending environmental impact rules

Picture of an off-shore drilling rig in Long Banks Newfoundland in 2017. Photograph by The Telegram

On March 4, 2020, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson authorized a derogation of the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) to allow exploratory, offshore oil-and-gas drilling on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, pending an online consultation process. Originally, this was to be a 30-day consultation process terminating April 3, 2020, but has been extended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It has been estimated that the area to be explored has a potential to produce 650,000 barrels per day.

Yet public information about the online consultation, in particular the derogation of the IAA, has been well-hidden from the radar screen of those likely to be concerned about the Grand Banks project. The only portrait I found on the political machinations is in a Le Devoir article from March 23.

Normally the proponents, in this case Husky Energy and ExxonMobil, are required to issue notice on their proposal and write an environmental impact assessment report. The report is then evaluated by the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. This process has been skipped for up to 100 drilling initiatives up to the year 2030. MORE

 

#digitalstrike: how the climate action movement is responding to COVID-19

Julia Samson at a pre-COvID-19 climate rally; Albert Lalonde and Sophia Sadarous during an online discussion this week about decolonisation in the climate movement

Climate activists around the world planned to hit the streets in big numbers this Friday. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.

For months, young organisers behind the Fridays for Future strikes started by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg had been planning mass mobilizations for April 3, including in cities across Canada.

But with bans on gatherings of more than a handful of people now in force across Canada and much of the world, those plans had to be quickly recycled in the last two weeks to adapt to a very different reality.

Direct action teach-ins have turned into Zoom seminars, plans for street protests have morphed into tweet storms and digital strikes, and ”couch activism” is suddenly not a dig at those too lethargic to turn up but the best and most responsible way to protest. Synchronised noise-making from balconies and doorways (a la the Italian and Spanish responses to the pandemic) are also planned.

“Our whole strategy is based on being able to leave school and hit the streets, and those are two things we can’t do right now,” said Payton Mitchell, a Climate Strike Canada organiser. “It’s a really big challenge, there’s only so much you can do online and it’s hard to post about fossil fuel projects in the middle of a pandemic.”

Digital tweet storms involve participants posing with protest signs and using a coordinated hashtag. Source: Twitter page for Fridays for Future Digital (@fff_digital)

The creative efforts are nevertheless a sharp downturn for the movement, which on September 27 brought hundreds of thousands of Canadians together to push for urgent action to confront the climate crisis.

“I’m going to admit, it’s disappointing,” said Alienor Rougeot, a 21-year-old university student and organiser of climate actions in Toronto. “If you were in a crowd in September, feeling that energy…and we have beautiful weather right now, just being physically in the street does a lot and it does have a huge impact.”

But she and other young organisers take comfort in the fact that staying at home is what science and scientists tell us is the way to face this crisis, which is the same primary message they seek to communicate about climate change — listen to the science.

“And in a way it’s kind of exciting because we get to do things that you don’t get to do in a normal rally — we can have more performers, a more in-depth conversation, more things people can directly do during the strike since they’re at home anyway.”

Those calls for action will include simultaneously tweeting with the #onlineclimatestrike or #digitalclimatestrike hashtags to make it a trending topic, stepping outside to make noise, and a mass texting to an unspecified provincial political office, she said.

Climate activists forced to cancel a major global protest due to COVID-19 are taking a diminished version of their dissent online, with tweet storms, virtual seminars and synchronised noisemaking.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced climate strikes planned for April 3 to move online. Source: Facebook page for Fridays for Future Toronto/GTA

Silver linings

Mitchell, the national organiser, said this moment — with the country crying out for a long-term stimulus plan to restart a battered economy — also presented opportunities for the climate movement.

“This is a really good moment right now to push for things like a Green New Deal,” she said. “People are talking about a People’s Bailout.”

While acknowledging the diminished impact their actions on Friday will have on a distracted public, young activists from across the country told National Observer that the COVID-19 crisis also allowed them to take a well-deserved break and form closer, more strategic relationships that will serve the movement well once the worst of the pandemic passes.

“We’ve been able to spend more time talking with each other and getting to know each other and really helping us agree on things and getting work done,” said Julia Samson, an 18-year-old high school student in Halifax.

She has been active in the climate protest movement for more than a year now and said that she had felt burned out after having “gone and gone and gone for so long.”

“Sometimes you need to scale it back a little to continue working,” she said.

In lieu of a street protest, Samson and other activists in Halifax are pushing for supporters to flood the offices of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and the local MP, Liberal Andy Fillmore, with phone messages in opposition to a $15 billion bailout that is reportedly being planned for the oil and gas industry.

“We should be bailing out the oil and gas sector workers and not the corporations themselves, especially at a time when the price of oil is less than a bucket of KFC chicken,” she said.

Payton Mitchell seen at a January 10 rally in Montreal.

 

The Quebec student movement, meanwhile, had planned a week of direct actions that would have shut down many campuses and replaced classes with teach-ins about the climate crisis. They had to quickly pivot to online action and also adjust their messaging.

“We really don’t want to be aggressive on climate, we don’t want to take too much attention right now,” said Montreal-based Albert Lalonde from the Coalition étudiante pour un virage environnemental et social (CEVES), which loosely translates as the Student Coalition for Environmental and Social Change. “The point now is to create a spirit of solidarity.”

Still, he said the movement was merely pausing its most aggressive actions against projects such as Keystone XL and the Coastal GasLink pipeline that is being fought by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, and would need to mobilise against the potential oil and gas bailout.

“We can’t restart the economy the way it was, it was doing so much harm and is not sustainable,” he said.

The cancelled Quebec sit-ins would have focused on Indigenous land rights and opposition to pipeline construction, and that focus was maintained in the online versions, including one seminar on the decolonisation of the climate movement featuring Indigenous student Sophia Sadarous.

Sadarous, a member of the Metepenagiag First Nation, is active in the Wet’suwet’en solidarity movement, which just last month was front page news as its actions shut down major rail and other infrastructure across the country.

“All news about the Wet’suwet’en has just been erased,” she said. “It has stopped being aired and being a priority for the government.”

She said COVID-19 had also given supporters of the Wet’suwet’en a chance to breathe.

“A lot of the people, the activists and protectors involved in the Wet’suwet’en conflict have been going 110 per cent strong for these past few months and the situation at hand is forcing people to take care of themselves.”

But she fears the pandemic may also risk reaching the remote territory via the CGL man camps being constructed there. SOURCE

North Shore First Nations taking pipeline expansion to Supreme Court of Canada

Members of Coast Salish First Nations lead a flotilla from North Vancouver to Trans Mountain’s Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby. file photo Jennifer Gauthier, Burnaby Now

Three B.C. First Nations, including the North Shore’s Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh, are again seeking to take their fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 2018, the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Coldwater Band successfully had the original approval of the pipeline overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal over a lack of constitutionally guaranteed consultation.

The federal government did more consultations with First Nations and the Liberal cabinet later reapproved the pipeline’s construction. The three nations argued that second round of consultations was still inadequate. The Federal Court of Appeal did not agree with the arguments the second time around.

The Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Coldwater Band announced Friday they would be seeking leave to appeal to Canada’s top court.

“The Supreme Court of Canada needs to deal with the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision that essentially lets the government be the judge and jury of its own consultation efforts. We need the opportunity to address the flawed consultation and engagement conducted by the federal government, given the strength of rights and title of the Squamish people to Burrard Inlet and Vancouver,” said Khelsilem, Squamish Nation spokesperson and council member, in a release. “Indigenous peoples have a constitutional right to meaningful consultation and the courts must scrutinize that process. This flawed decision cannot stand, and we must challenge it, not just for us but for any future project that may be challenged by First Nations.”

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court declined to hear a separate challenge to the pipeline. That challenge by First Nations and environmental groups, alleged the government was violating the Species at Risk Act.

Tsleil-Waututh Chief Leah George-Wilson said the case goes beyond the impacts of the pipeline and tanker traffic and instead speaks to the fundamental issue of the relationship between First Nations and the Crown.

“The Coldwater case is a major setback for reconciliation and consultation in Canada because if it is left unchallenged, it would water down the consultation standard to be no more than a procedural hurdle,” she said.

The Supreme Court must decide whether it will hear the appeal but the First Nations argue it is mandatory, as the issue is of national importance.  SOURCE