Some teachers are preparing for school by preparing their wills

Image: Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash

Image: Taylor Wilcox/Unsplash

Normally, teachers spend their summers teaching summer school, taking courses, or preparing for their classes in September. This summer, some of us are preparing differently for the fall: we’re updating our wills.

Yes, these are good times to be an estate lawyer. Wills are the hottest topic among teachers on social media at the moment. Four months ago, we were sharing sourdough recipes. Now we’re sharing tips on estate planning and exchanging names of legal firms. The educator’s insurance company Teachers Life is even offering $50 rebates to teachers who make a first-time will, with an extra $50 bonus if we designate a power of attorney. This is even better than the teachers’ discount at Staples.

Teachers are planners, and planning for our deaths is a logical response to the prospect of being forced back to work without assurance that there will be adequate safety measures or funding in place to ensure that our return to work does not kill us and our students.

And we have reason to be alarmed.

First, we have the example of other jurisdictions, like Israel, where a second wave of COVID-19 infections was ignited by the premature reopening of schools, and where one teacher recently died after earlier warning that parents were sending their kids to school sick. This is a clear risk here too given that many working parents have no paid sick days at their places of employment and cannot afford to keep their kids home. In Alberta, which has seen a recent spike in infections, the Jason Kenney government announced that schools would be reopening at full capacity with no reduced class sizes and no obligation for students to wear masks (although, ever on the lookout for ways to undermine the public education system, he reassured nervous parents that the government would provide support for them to homeschool their kids if they were nervous about sending them to school).

The Alberta model has already been tentatively adopted by the Toronto Catholic District School Board, which voted on Thursday that if the government mandates a full reopening, they would do so with no reduced class sizes. When asked on Twitter why the board was not enforcing the wearing of masks, Trustee Norm Di Pasquale said it was beyond the ability of schools to enforce a requirement that was not required of public health, a bizarre argument from a board that regularly enforces the skirt lengths of female students.

Second, it’s our bad luck in Ontario to be stuck with a government composed of people who went into politics — not to better manage government programs and institutions — but to dismantle and privatize them. Now these same people have found themselves in a crisis situation that requires thoughtful management and intervention. We have the wrong people in charge at the wrong time. Staffers who pick up the phone at the Ministry of Education have started telling people that the ministry has stopped taking inquiries about education. Perhaps they just want to trade gardening tips and talk about their favourite TV shows?

Finally, with barely six weeks left before school starts, the Ontario Ministry of Education has provided no clear direction to school boards, and no new money. However, the Ford government’s hasty passage of Bill 197, which now gives it the power to change the Occupational Health and Safety Act at will, is not reassuring to those of us who are worried about walking into a death trap.

My employer, the Toronto District School Board, has put forward several possible models for opening schools, but most of them require money — as much as $250 million, in the case of one model. Unfortunately, what little money the provincial government has so far pledged to cover the costs of reopening schools safely — a 2 per cent increase in the grants for student needs — is actually just a restoration of cuts they had already made the year before, when we were already desperately underfunded and our schools were crumbling. As treasurer of the Waterloo Region District School Board stated during a board meeting last week, “The Ministry [of Education] has been very clear that there is no additional funding to support COVID at this time.”

No surprise then that according to TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird, the board is leaning toward the cheapest of their proposed models, which is to resume schools full time with regularly sized classes of 30 or more, but with “additional, unspecified health and safety protocols,” whatever those are. (I vote for hazmat suits.) Since the Mike Harris era, most schools have operated with a skeleton crew of custodians who have struggled to keep washrooms stocked with soap, so the absence of any news that boards will be hiring additional caretakers is very alarming.

Unfortunately, with barely six weeks left to go until the start of school, the time to be hiring extra cleaning staff is running out. Similarly, if school boards wanted to open full time while ensuring adequate physical distancing measures by keeping class sizes low and opening up unused public facilities for classroom use, that process would have needed to start weeks ago, so it’s clear that won’t be happening either.

Lucky for us in the TDSB that both our director and chair of the board have just stepped down and Bill 197 allows for the appointment of a new director without any background in education. Hopefully it’ll be someone with a background in public health.

Despite the absence of a clear financial commitment from the provincial government to ensure the safe reopening of schools, the political pressure to open them full time is enormous and growing. Kids are depressed and missing their friends, parents are desperate to get back to work, and governments at all levels are eager to get the economy back to some semblance of normality before the public either turns on them with pitchforks or begins making demands like universal basic income and free child care.

The desperation to reopen schools fully and full time can be heard in almost every parent chat group and newspaper op-ed, and it’s creating a climate where too many people looking for short-term relief are prepared to throw caution to the wind. It doesn’t help that the news is so dominated by the United States’ degeneration into a plague state that any public health response short of recommending people spit into each other’s faces seems balanced and responsible by comparison.

Sick Kids Hospital last month inadvertently fueled this climate of incaution by releasing a series of recommendations for reopening schools that were alarming in their laxity, including recommendations that students not be required to wear masks or to physically distance themselves during outdoor play. The recommendations were based on a Swedish study that has since been criticized as flawed, and it ignored the risks of staff infecting each other, though infectious disease expert Zain Chagla, in a recent TVO interview, noted that this has actually been a driving factor in the spread of infection of health-care workers in hospitals.

Despite all this, some parent groups continue to latch onto the Sick Kids report as proof that schools can and should open as usual, and these are dangerous demands with a tight-fisted government.

The Sick Kids recommendations were made out of concern for students’ mental health and the recognition that most did not fare well under emergency remote learning. But you know what else is bad for mental health? Death. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of well-being when you’re hooked up to a ventilator or dead. It’s also not conducive to good mental health to know that because you passed on your infection you are indirectly responsible for the deaths of your teachers, friends, and family members.

And make no mistake, without adequate funding and proper safety plans, there will be deaths. The question is how many the public is prepared to accept for a return to business as usual.

In the meantime, as we wait this week for the announcement from Education Minister Stephen Lecce about what the plans will be for the fall, I’ll be completing my will and collecting my $100 rebates from Teachers Life. I’m hoping it’ll cover the cost of bagels at my shiva. My family eats a lot of bagels.

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Major new climate study rules out less severe global warming scenarios

An analysis finds the most likely range of warming from doubling carbon dioxide to be between 4.1 to 8.1 degrees Fahrenheit

Flames ripped through trees as the Hog Fire jumped Highway 36 about five miles from Susanville, Calif., on Monday. (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images). (Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

The current pace of human-caused carbon emissions is increasingly likely to trigger irreversible damage to the planet, according to a comprehensive international study released Wednesday. Researchers studying one of the most important and vexing topics in climate science — how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere — found that warming is extremely unlikely to be on the low end of estimates.

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Andrew Freedman edits and reports on extreme weather and climate science for the Capital Weather Gang. He has covered science, with a specialization in climate research and policy, for Axios, Mashable, Climate Central, E&E Daily and other publications. Follow

 is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter covering climate change, energy, and the environment. He has reported from the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, the Northwest Passage, and the Greenland ice sheet, among other locations, and has written four books about science, politics and climate change.Follow

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73% IN B.C. SUPPORT JUST, SUSTAINABLE TRANSITION

James Wheeler/Pixabay

The majority of British Columbians support a more just, sustainable transition into a post-pandemic economy, according to online poll results released last week by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“We see a strong majority saying as we look to the recovery, we don’t want to simply rebuild the economy we had, but rebuild a more equitable and sustainable economy,” CCPA economist Alex Hemmingway told CBC. “73% want to see that.”

Support for a more equitable, sustainable economy crossed party lines, earning a thumbs-up from 85% of NDP supporters, 60% of Liberals, and 90% of Greens, CCPA reports. Among provincial Liberals, the poll found a 60-to-36% split between respondents who wanted to build back better or just rebuild the existing economy.

CBC says 83% of respondents supported a shift to universal public senior care, 77% backed paid sick time for all workers, 70% supported higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and 67% agreed with increasing social assistance rates to above the poverty line.

“People are recognizing, as part of the result of the pandemic itself and the economic difficulties that it’s created, how connected all our fates are and how dependent we are on each other,” Hemingway said.

I think one thing that suggests that these results will be robust over time is that you see consistency in the appetite to tax wealth and corporations during the pandemic and also pre-pandemic,” he added. “It may be a case that those issues have been brought to prominence and those opinions will crystallize over time.”

The survey focused on a range of health, community, and social service supports, not the elements of a green, low-carbon recovery. But CCPA says 53% supported and only 19% opposed a transition fund for fossil workers unlikely to recover from the oil price crash.

On Medium, meanwhile, 350 Canada is out with a list of six better ways for the federal government to spend the C$16 billion it’s currently lavishing on fossil companies, according to the recently-released Energy Policy Tracker.

Digital Organizer Jennifer Deol and Senior Digital Specialist Atiya Jaffar call for $5 billion for emergency transit funding, $5 billion per year for affordable housing, $3.2 billion to end boil-water advisories on First Nations reserves, $200 million to address the opioid crisis, $300 million per year for local programs to replace policing and “ensure no more Black and Indigenous lives are lost to state-sanctioned police violence”, and $150 million to kick-start 100 Indigenous-led renewable energy projects.

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First Nations Leadership Council calling for halt on changes to B.C.’s Clean Energy Act

A run-of-river mini dam. (Courtesy energybc.ca)

SUMMARY
      • First Nations communities fear they will be undercut if BC Hydro no longer purchases their power
      • Amendments to the Clean Energy Act remove energy self-sufficiency from its priorities

CHILLIWACK (NEWS1130) – The First Nations Leadership Council is the latest to register its opposition to pending changes to the province’s Clean Energy Act.

Bill 17 proposes to remove energy self-sufficiency from the act’s key mandates, essentially making it easier for BC Hydro to buy power from the U.S.

Currently, BC Hydro purchases power from about 120 Independent Power Producers, or IPPs. About 80 of the province’s IPPs are fully or partially owned by First Nations. Power is produced by mini-dams –referred to as run-of-river– as well as biomass, and wind projects.

Once the bill is passed, BC Hydro will no longer depend on these small-scale producers for power.

The First Nations Leadership Council represents the political executive of the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. In a statement, the council says “the government has ignored its own statute in the process of drafting Bill 17 and its tabling in the legislature.”

“It undercuts B.C. First Nations that have developed power projects,” says Robert Phillip who is with the First Nations Summit. “It could be very detrimental to First Nations who have worked so hard to put them in place, whether they are run-of-the-river projects, or other energy sources that we would think would be part of the future.”

He notes he was impressed when he recently visited a run-of-river project in Atlin.

“Very self-sufficient, very clean, and provides an abundance of energy. This should be a partnership with BC. That’s just one but there are many.”

He says it is highly troubling and frustrating to see the changes move forward without proper consultation with First Nations, especially after the province signed onto the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

It’s what others on the leadership council are saying as well.

“This Bill is fundamentally flawed in content and in process and must be withdrawn. We are particularly concerned that Bill 17, which stands to absolutely devastate some First Nations’ economic development plans and opportunities, was introduced at the same time the Province is discussing economic recovery from COVID,” says Judy Wilson, with the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Last month, Clean Energy BC came out to say by abandoning contracts with small producers, the province and BC Hydro are removing a source of local development. It also fears relying on American energy sources makes BC vulnerable to rising energy prices.

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Experts Like BC’s Youth Vaping Rules, but Want Focus on Why They Vape Too

Social factors like anxiety, stress and structural racism all play a role.

Youth vaping use has surged across Canada, researchers have found. Photo via Shutterstock.

New regulations to combat vaping in B.C., particularly among youth, are a welcome intervention amid surging youth vaping rates, but an expert says prevention will take more than educating young people about its risks.

The new regulations to implement last fall’s Anti-Vaping Action Plan were released last week after the pandemic bumped back their intended March roll-out.

Hailed by the province as the most comprehensive in Canada, the regulations include limiting the content of vaping pods to 20 mg/mL and relegating the sale of flavoured pods to adult-only 19+ stores.

All-ages stores, such as convenience or grocery stores, must only sell unflavoured, tobacco-based vape products, and all vape products must have plain packaging with visible health warnings, much like cigarettes.

The provincial sales tax rate on vaping products also rose from 7 to 20 per cent starting on Jan. 1 and vape products cannot be advertised in public spaces where youth are likely to spend time.

“Given the central importance right now of respiratory diseases and illnesses such as COVID-19 in our lives, I think it’s an important time to make this move,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix last week.

Vaping among youth in Canada increased by 74 per cent between 2017 and 2018, from 8.4 to 14.6 per cent of 16- to 19-year-olds, according to a study by Dr. David Hammond of the University of Waterloo.

And in the 2018 BC Adolescent Health Survey, 21 per cent of B.C. students in Grades 7 to 12 said they had used a nicotine-based vaping product, while 19 per cent had used a vaping product without nicotine.

Dr. Laura Struik, a University of British Columbia Okanagan expert in youth vaping and smoking, said “from a health policy perspective, this is a great and encouraging step forward.”

Preventing youth from vaping is important because their brains are still developing into their mid-twenties, and nicotine predisposes a developing brain to long-term nicotine addiction, said Struik.

Hammond’s study also found that youth who vape are also three to four times more likely to start smoking cigarettes.

But a number of the new regulations could go further or even have adverse health effects that public health officials will have to monitor as the regulations take effect.

Struik applauds the limit on nicotine content but says that we may see people used to higher nicotine concentrations increasing the temperature of their vaping devices or prolonging inhalation to make up for the difference.

Currently, the most concentrated vape pod available is 66 mg/mL, triple what is allowed by the new limit.

“There are a lot of health risks to doing both of those things, and they can cause significant damage to the lungs,” said Struik, an assistant professor of nursing at UBCO. “So that’s just something that we’ll need to keep an eye on when these changes happen.”

Prohibiting ads for vape products in public spaces is important, but she says a more difficult but impactful step would be to prevent advertising online where youth and young adults spend much of their time.

Also key to combating youth vaping is involving youth themselves in education initiatives and in evaluating new policies, particularly because they face different and increasing stressors than previous generations did at their age.

The province’s action plan includes a provincial youth advisory group to develop and advise on future policy, a step Struik said is essential to understanding the “multidimensional and varied” reasons that youth vape.

Social factors like peer pressure, increasing stress from school and work, lack of sleep and anxiety around climate change, structural racism and other issues at the forefront may drive youth to cope using vape products.

“These factors can play a larger and sometimes overriding role in their decision to [vape], so if our education campaigns are only addressing the risk factors, and yet the social factor is playing a larger role, then we’re not really doing our job,” said Struik.

Leveraging ways that youth avoid vaping could help drive positive change, but Struik says there has to be an increase in resources to accompany the regulations if they are to be truly effective at curbing vaping addictions.

“It’s one thing to implement these regulations, but we also have to be ready to catch people on the other side and have programs and interventions in place to help hold them through this addiction,” she said. “And unfortunately, we are a little bit behind in that regard.”  [Tyee]

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Pandemic response shows Canada can afford a zero carbon future

Could investments to tackle our climate emergency be deployed as quickly as the financial aid to help cushion COVID-19’s economic destruction? Photo by Shutterstock

In any discussion of a transition to a zero carbon economy, the question of how we pay for it always arises. For example, while the private sector, businesses and households will often save big from the adoption of more efficient technologies, someone has to pay the upfront investments.

Given the collective benefits, it makes sense for that someone to be federal or provincial governments. Unfortunately, despite the need to transition off fossil fuels in this decade if we are to meet global GHG reduction targets, governments have been needlessly and dangerously holding back.

In Canada, the federal response to COVID-19 has illustrated how much governments can do when they deploy their awesome fiscal power. During the Great Recession a decade ago, Canadian bankers received $115 billion in support from Ottawabut scarcely anything was done for the newly unemployed. In contrast, Canadians today have been generally impressed with how fast the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) put money in their pockets after losing work from the pandemic economic shutdown.

Anyone familiar with the climate change debate must be asking themselves how much faster the federal government could be acting on climate change if it felt the same urgency. To that end, it’s worth examining how the federal government came up with money it did in such a short period of time, mostly through new debt. Could investments to tackle what is now a climate emergency be similarly deployed, and as quickly?

Before we get to that question, it’s helpful to dispel some common misconceptions about debt. Yes, the federal government will log a hefty deficit on this year’s balance sheet. But the private sector and provincial governments are far more indebted than Ottawa, and they pay concerningly more to service those debts. Even with the $343-billion deficit projected for 2020-21, the federal government’s debt-to-GDP ratio, a commonly used sign of fiscal health, looks pretty good compared to many comparable countries (Japan’s was 239 per cent in 2018), and very good compared to Canadian households and corporate sectors (see chart).

Another factor in the federal government’s favour, at least with respect to its finances, is that the interest rate it pays on new debt has absolutely plummeted. Ottawa is now paying 0.46 per cent on long-term (five- to 10-year) bonds.

The graph below shows just how much of a good deal that is — the lowest interest rates since the Second World War. With inflation at roughly two per cent, bondholders will lose money on every dollar they lend the federal government after inflation. The implications of these rock bottom rates are fairly incredible in that the federal government will pay less in interest charges on this year’s $343-billion deficit than they did on last year’s $34-billion deficit.

Debts can become a problem if interest rates go up faster than the rate of inflation. But that applies to all economic sectors, not just the feds. Interest rates high enough to be a problem for the federal government would be absolutely punishing to businesses and Canadian households, leading to mass bankruptcies in both sectors. For this reason, interest rates will be held down for a long time.

“Having made the case that a federal government can feasibly take on more debt and still pay for a just transition to a renewable future, there is also evidence it could find new revenues despite the pandemic’s hit to the economy.”

Now, having made the case that a federal government can feasibly take on more debt and still pay for a just transition to a renewable future, there is also evidence it could find new revenues despite the pandemic’s hit to the economy.

While people making less than $16 an hour when COVID-19 hit are still struggling to get back into the workforce, at above $48 an hour there are actually more jobs and more hours being worked today than in February.

Similarly, not all Canadian businesses and sectors were as sideswiped by COVID-19 as retail, restaurants and hospitality. Essential service companies such as grocery stores have seen profits soar, as have online retailers like Amazon. Even during a pandemic, big profits will be made as some people and companies find themselves on the right side of behavioural shifts.

There is no good reason these high-profit companies and high-earning people couldn’t be asked to pick up a bit more of the cost of the pandemic recovery programs or a transition off fossil fuels. Our recent Alternative Federal Budget Recovery Plan suggests some ways that you might do that, including a one per cent wealth tax on estates over $20 million, a surplus profits tax on companies making big bucks on the pandemic, and fairer taxation on e-commerce companies like Amazon that aren’t currently paying their fair share.

The rapid response to the pandemic has shown Canadians what the federal government is capable of in a crisis. By expanding our ideas of what’s possible, maybe we’ll finally start making the investments needed to tackle climate change in a meaningful way.

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Ocasio-Cortez amendment has pipeline industry on edge

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Capitol Hill last month. Francis Chung/E&E News

An amendment filed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to the Energy-Water title of the House’s second fiscal 2021 spending package has struck a nerve with the nation’s pipeline industry.

The amendment, submitted and made available for the public through the House Rules Committee website late last week, would add a policy rider to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from using any of its $7.35 billion allocation to issue oil and gas pipeline permits under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act.

The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America warned yesterday that should the proposal move forward, it could put a stop to pipeline construction across the country, with potentially devastating effects to associated infrastructure needed to bolster manufacturing, heating and power production.

For Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive lawmakers, that is most likely the point, as they look to further undercut fossil fuel deployment to combat climate change. Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not return an email for comment on her amendment yesterday.

C.J. Osman, INGAA’s vice president of operations, safety and integrity, said in an interview with E&E News that the amendment could mean drastic problems for the pipeline industry, should it be made in order.

“This amendment is pretty concerning for our industry,” Osman said. “It seems to amount to a ban to most new energy pipeline projects.”

Osman added, “From our perspective, that would be incredibly disruptive both to American consumers’ energy affordability and their access to energy.”

The Rules Committee will meet later today to consider the amendment, along with hundreds of others to the seven-bill spending minibus pending before the House floor this week (E&E Daily, July 27).

‘Very concerned’

The amendment would prevent any permitting “for the discharge of dredged or fill material resulting from an activity to construct a pipeline for the transportation of oil or gas.”

The implications from such language could be far reaching, INGAA said, but ultimately, it could gut the Army Corps’ ability to oversee its Section 404 responsibilities while still putting the onus on the industry to meet those requirements under the Clean Water Act.

The amendment could prevent the Army Corps from retooling its Nationwide Permit 12 program, which enables a more streamlined approach to approving pipeline construction pathways across multiple water and stream barriers.

A federal judge struck down the program in April, throwing the pipeline industry into chaos and stalling multiple projects (Energywire, April 27).

The Ocasio-Cortez amendment could also mean new and existing construction could not occur in fiscal 2021, putting in jeopardy upgrades to existing pipelines and deployment of new natural gas lines.

That could mean a reduction in energy affordability, grid reliability and construction jobs across the country — in Republican and Democratic districts.

“We believe that members of Congress on both sides of the political spectrum should be very concerned about this because there are impacts to communities across the country, and we have heard, frankly, from representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, that they have concerns with this legislation,” Osman said.

“This is one of those things that has the potential to have broad impacts across the country — red, blue, purple, whatever you may be,” he added.

Green New Deal alternative

Ocasio-Cortez has been adamant about her opposition to deploying additional fossil fuel infrastructure. She has opted instead for her Green New Deal to overhaul the economy with massive federal investment to transition to a climate-friendly future.

That has included a keen focus on pipelines. She fought against a Trump administration proposal to limit pipeline protests as part of reauthorizing the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Ocasio-Cortez protested the Dakota Access pipeline project.

Policy riders on appropriations bills are not without precedent in the House. Both parties use them to attempt to rein in perceived executive branch overreach or to ensure implementation of certain policy in a certain way.

House Republicans spent the majority of the 2010s using policy riders to lash out against Obama administration climate regulations. Democrats have done the same under the Trump administration related to his regulatory rollback agenda.

And Ocasio-Cortez’s amendment would not be the only rider targeting Army Corps operations. The bill already includes a rider to prevent any funding from going to the border wall construction and another provision limiting the ability to move its Civil Works program to an additional federal agency, among others.

With a Republican Senate, those policy riders are expected to be absent from any spending legislation enacted into law.

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A Northeast US climate initiative has had a major side benefit—healthier children

Researchers estimate a climate effort in the Northeast U.S. helped the region reduce toxic air pollution and avoid hundreds of asthma and autism cases, preterm births, and low birth weights.

Children playing at the Maine Botanical Gardens in 2019. (Credit: Michele Dorsey Walfred/flickr)

A climate change initiative in the Northeastern U.S. designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions has also greatly reduced harmful air pollution and related impacts to kids’ health, such as asthma, preterm births and low birth weights, according to a new study.

Led by researchers from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, the study found the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative has reduced fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and, due to this reduction, the region avoided an estimated 537 cases of child asthma, 112 preterm births, 98 cases of autism spectrum disorder, and 56 cases of low birthweight from 2009 to 2014.

By avoiding such impacts to children’s health, the researchers estimate an economic savings of between $191 million to $350 million.

“Toxic air pollutants are released right along with [carbon dioxide],” lead author Frederica Perera, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia Mailman School and director of translational research at Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health, told EHN. “Because of biological vulnerability, developing fetuses and young child are disproportionately affected by air pollution and climate change.”

PM2.5 consists of toxic airborne particles much tinier than the width of a human hair, and is linked to a variety of health impacts including respiratory and heart problems, birth impacts and altered brain development for children.

The microscopic pollution can be made up of many different particles, but in this study—published today in Environmental Health Perspectives— researchers looked at reductions in nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which, once emitted from power plants, react in the atmosphere to form PM2.5.

The estimates of health benefits and cost savings are likely conservative: atmospheric-formed PM2.5 is the majority of the particle pollution from power plants, however, there is also some directly emitted from the plants, which the researchers did not take into account. Nor did they look at other toxics such as ozone or nitrogen dioxide.

The calculated economic benefits also don’t consider the benefits of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

“These estimates of cost are definitely undereatimes, as they do not include the long term lifetime costs of these disorders or impairments,” Perera said.

“Preterm births, for example, raise the risk for respiratory illness in adulthood, and for cognitive effects like decreased IQ, so we can consider these conservative estimates,” she added.

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The Big Rebuild: One-Week Zero-Carbon Home Makeovers and Setting New Comfort Levels

‘Build, build, build’ is a call heard to boost economies trying to bounce back from the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis. But, facing the climate emergency there are huge opportunities to ‘retrofit, retrofit, retrofit’, improving buildings that are already standing, as well as rethinking some of the assumptions that make buildings so energy-hungry in the first place. Is it time to question the so-called Fanger equation that’s been controlling our energy use for half a century, and embrace Energiesprong and Stroomversnellung?  The built environment looks set for a long-overdue makeover.

It’s fifty years now since the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research in 1970 about how warm people like to feel, the so-called thermal levels of comfort for the human body. His – all male – participants were exposed without clothing to a range of temperatures and then asked about their levels of comfort which were measured on a seven point scale. Their physiological reactions were also measured. The equation resulting from this work still exerts an invisible influence that governs the designed-in temperature of our modern buildings, and hence our use of energy. This is because it became embedded in global construction standards. As a result, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we are usually required to work seated in a space that is heated or cooled to 21-22℃. When clothing is added into the calculations of engineers and architects, it is also measured in “clo” – or a man’s business suit of: trousers, a long-sleeved shirt and a jacket. All at once, therefore, buildings designed this way fail to consider many more than half of humanity: women, people from cultures where suits are not worn, or those whose metabolism is just different because of age, size or health. The incorporation of Fanger’s equations into building codes to create a set-point for comfort not only locks in assumptions that only apply to a male, suited minority, but also a level of energy use and hence carbon emissions which, in aggregate, contribute to the climate emergency. Their very invisibility means calls to debate and re-examine those assumptions are difficult and overdue.

This needs to be born in mind when deciding what is required from inside spaces, especially in the face of increasing climatic extremes, and as millions of properties are in need of retrofitting for energy efficiency. Not only can existing homes be improved, and new ones built better, but the dial on 21-22℃ assumption on comfort could be turned down.

A 2012 study commissioned by the Department for Energy and Climate Change in the United Kingdom from Cambridge Architectural Research looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that turning down the thermostat on central heating systems yielded the biggest savings. Lowering by 2°C from 20°C to a moderate 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity. To put that into perspective it represents about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

There is currently huge demand for reducing the amount of energy used to heat or cool homes whilst also making buildings integral to renewable energy generation. Day to day energy use gives rise to what is known as “operational carbon emissions” and currently accounts for about 28 percent of global emissions annually. A huge increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is required to meet emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing building stock each year. Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to ‘negative’ emissions in which the carbon equation for energy generation becomes net negative – resulting in an overall reduction while occupying a building. For most older houses in particular, this process can be costly, disruptive and time-consuming to manage; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. But, even in countries claiming leadership on climate issues like the UK, progress has been slow.

But what if you could refurbish your home in a single week without moving out and without stumping up any extra cash? Enter the Energiesprong approach from the Netherlands, which offers just that by integrating refurbishment, regulatory change and financing that enables future savings to pay for current investment. This wraparound system relies on development teams to find suitable buildings – often working with housing associations – which are then clad externally and given renewable heating or cooling apparatus. After an Energiesprong retrofit, a home is net zero energy, meaning it generates the total amount of energy required for its heating, hot water and electrical appliances. They use new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. The subsequent refurbishment comes with a long-year performance warranty on both the indoor climate and the energy performance for up to 40 years. And complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread. From Ireland to India, economic stimulus packages in response to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic are including spending on retrofitting both homes and workplaces and the Energiesprong approach could be taken up much more widely.

This fast and scalable solution needs to be set against the growth in global building space, which is set to double by 2060 if it continues at the current rate. More than half of the global population is now concentrated in urban areas, and by 2060 two thirds of the expected population of 10 billion will live in cities. To accommodate this tremendous growth, the equivalent of an entire New York City could be added to our global built environment every month for the next 40 years. Since the energy used simply to construct buildings before their use constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today, it is vital that this new building stock must be designed to meet zero-net-carbon, or net negative standards.

Wider relevance

The Energiesprong system is particularly interesting because, although it works for single properties, it also looks at the regulatory environment and the supply chain as part of the wider construction environment. Market development teams work in all these areas in preparation for projects, to stimulate demand and design a possible pathway for scaling their refurbishments. They work with regulators to suggest fine-tuning for policy and regulation, and with banks to create financial arrangements that make it viable to work at scale. This gives suppliers the confidence to invest in off-site manufacturing of the components needed for such house makeovers; without mass manufacturing, these initiatives will remain niche and make little impact on the wider construction landscape or on emissions reductions. In the Netherlands, where the initiative originates, already it has developed further into a network known as Stroomversnelling. This consists of contractors, component suppliers, housing providers, local governments, financiers, DSOs (energy system managers known as ‘distribution system operators’) and other parties. Its objectives are to reduce the renovation costs of net zero carbon refurbishments, increase occupants’ acceptance of such renovations and increase the pace of growth in the net zero carbon housing market itself.

An Energiesprong renovation or new build is financed in an unusually forward-thinking and long-term way. The budget is taken to be future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the coming 30 years. The idea is to keep residents or householders’ bills at the current rate by spreading the cost into the future, when energy bills will be lower. In the case of housing associations, the housing association foots the bill for conversion and the tenants pay the housing association back via an energy service plan set at a similar rate to their previous energy supplier bill. The housing association can then use this new income stream to partly fund the renovation works. Typically, legislation needs to be amended to allow housing associations to convert a monthly energy bill into an energy service fee. Most changes to renewables require significant capital expenditure which people which people either do not have, or do not wish to spend on energy reduction. This enables them to plan into the future at a steady rate without paying up front, while knowing that their carbon footprint is shrinking – and is a model that could be replicated elsewhere.

Context and background

To meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to limit global temperature rise to 1.5℃, the built environment’s energy intensity—how much energy a building uses—will have to improve by 30 percent by 2030, according to UN Environment. Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5 percent every year with new technologies, fuels and materials; however, this is being more than offset by the number of buildings. Global floor area grows by about 2.3 percent annually and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 unless action at scale takes place.

Making houses less demanding of energy is also a social justice issue. Of the British domestic properties which have registered an energy efficiency rating, only 0.05 percent of existing dwellings and one percent of new builds are in the highest band A – and most are intricate one-off designs to be kept temperate with almost no heating or air conditioning. But most of the housing stock – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas, are leaky and cold, and can become damp when insulation is added without care for ventilation. Many people simply cannot afford to heat them. In the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower block fire in London three years ago, 72 people died when unsafe – and recently added – external insulation caused fire to spread quickly throughout the tower block. Some 246 buildings in the UK still have the same Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding today. Meanwhile, that same winter in London, deaths from cold homes were estimated at 17,000. One attempt to give poorer people better access to high-tech renewable options is a solar project called Repowering London, whose world-leading work has already transformed communities by training local young people to  install  photovoltaic cells on social housing blocks by local young people.

Energiesprong originated in the Netherlands, where it began as a government-funded innovation programme to drive an improved energy efficiency standard in the domestic market. Today, over 5000 homes in the country have been retrofitted to net zero energy houses at no extra costs for the residents and a further 9000 are planned. Currently, there are Energiesprong initiatives ranging from the Netherlands, to Francethe UKGermany and Northern Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on a solution for their own markets in New York State (RetrofitNY) and California.

Pilot projects have been done often in partnership with local councils, such as Nottingham City in the UK, which is aiming to be the first carbon neutral city by 2028. The proof of the system at the single house and group of single house levels has inspired them to look now to converting apartments led by the French project.

The UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands alone have 43 million apartments that are not future proof because there is no viable deep energy retrofit solution available yet for these buildings. Under the “Mustbe0” European programme, market development teams in the four participating countries will work specifically on solutions to fit apartment buildings in North West Europe. Nine housing providers have already committed to collaborating on the retrofit of at least 9 demonstrator buildings (with a total of 415 apartments) in the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands within the Mustbe0 programme.

Enabling factors

The speed of Energiesprong’s approach is due partly to their collaborative method of working alongside existing partners to develop a marketplace. A firm understanding of where to go for funding and the model of spreading the repayments into the future also helps. For instance, in London, Energiesprong is one of the key partners in the Mayor’s Energy for Londoners programme, which is designed to speed up the pace of cutting carbon emissions and achieving zero carbon by 2050. With the backing of the European Regional Development Fund, the Retrofit Accelerator for homes will help tackle the climate emergency and reduce energy bills, by installing insulation and low carbon heat and power solutions. The £3.6m programme is funded on a 50:50 basis by the Mayor of London and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The aim is for this programme to provide London boroughs and housing associations with the technical expertise they need to kick-start ‘whole-house’ retrofit projects across the capital. It will also help build the supply chain and business case to accelerate the retrofit revolution for private homes.This will mean new jobs too – something that is increasingly badly needed as we build back from the Coronavirus. London’s homes are responsible for around one third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions and a quarter of them have the worst energy performance rating. This year, Londoners will spend approximately £3.5bn powering their homes, pushing almost 12 per cent of them into fuel poverty. The programme is currently planning 1,600 whole-house retrofits in Greater London over the next three years. It may be possible for these alterations to be scaled up, given recent government plans to offer £2 billion in grants for making homes more energy efficient – however, such schemes are often ringfenced and not available for partnership with existing schemes such as Energiesprong.

It is interesting that in the example of the UK in particular, action has been taken at the city level rather than by county or national government. We have seen this sort of municipal initiative in movements such as the C40 pledge to make all new buildings zero carbon – so far, 25 cities around the world have signed up. Cities like San Jose and Berkeley in the US are banning gas installations in new residential construction. New York City recently passed a slate of new bills in its Climate Mobilization Act, which calls for building retrofits to achieve a 40 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Scope and evidence

      • To meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, the built environment’s energy intensity—how much energy a building uses—will have to improve by 30 percent by 2030, according to UN Environment.
      • This day to day energy use to run buildings currently accounts for about 28 percent of global emissions annually.
      • Building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing building stock each year.
      • Energiesprong is a ‘whole house’ system where development teams find suitable houses – often working with housing associations – which are then clad externally and given renewable heating or cooling apparatus. It originated in the Netherlands, where it began as a government-funded innovation programme to drive an improved energy efficiency standard in the domestic market.
      • Today, over 5000 homes in the country have been retrofitted to net zero energy houses at no extra costs for the residents and a further 9000 are planned. Energiesprong teams are active across Europe and have inspired spin-offs in the US too.
      • After an Energiesprong retrofit, a home is net zero energy, meaning it generates the total amount of energy required for its heating, hot water and electrical appliances.They use new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations.
      • The subsequent refurbishment comes with a long-year performance warranty on both the indoor climate and the energy performance for up to 40 years.
      • And complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a day.
      • Global building space, which is set to double by 2060 if it continues at the current rate.
SOURCE

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SAN JOSE — Is California — home to Tesla, solar panels galore and gobs of scientists — the ­green-energy paradise it’s made out to be? A new, peer-reviewed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal reinforces the idea.

California households emit 33 percent less carbon than any other state, while only two other Sun Belt states consume less energy, said researchers at the University of Michigan, who analyzed the environmental impact of 78 percent of the nation’s housing stock (about 93 million homes), using 2015 data.

Little Bluff Conservation Area closed, after warnings ignored

Little Bluff Conservation Area closed, after warnings ignored

Little Bluff Conservation Area in Prince Edward County. (Photo: Submitted / Quinte Conservation)

Despite warnings to the public last week, Quinte Conservation says it is closing the Little Bluff Conservation area in Prince Edward County, until further notice.

QC had banned vehicles from entering the conservation area, after reports of large crowds and other issues, and had asked drivers not to park on narrow roadways nearby.

But Corporate Services Manager Tammy Smith says those instructions were ignored and officials have now decided close the conservation area completely.

“Much less numbers but still over 80 people per day, which is pretty big considering we don’t have the facilities and staffing to manage that. So it was really necessary for us to reduce the negative impact on the area, because the ecology is really important in that area.”

“We love it that people want to go there. We know that it’s a destination site and it’s very unique. We’re disappointed it’s come to the gate closing, but I think it’s only temporary until we can have a long term plan.”

She added that the area will be monitored closely by OPP and by-law personnel, and anyone who violates the closure could be fined.

She added that QC will reevaluate the situation on a week-to-week basis. and Quinte Conservation is asking residents in the area of Little Bluff to get in touch with them if they have any further concerns.

SOURCE

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Quinte Conservation closes Little Bluff until further notice
Little Bluff closed until further notice

Sandbanks Provincial Park

The entrance to Sandbanks Provincial Park, near Picton, Ont. (Kimberley Johnson / CTV News Ottawa)

Prince Edward County locals frustrated as tourists flock to popular provincial park
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