PLANET PLASTIC: How Big Oil and Big Soda kept a global environmental calamity a secret for decades

The battle pits Udall and his allies in Congress against some of the most powerful corporate interests on the planet, including the oil majors and chemical giants that produce the building blocks for our modern plastic world — think Exxon, Dow, and Shell — and consumer giants like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, and Unilever that package their products in the stuff. Big Plastic isn’t a single entity. It’s more like a corporate supergroup: Big Oil meets Big Soda — with a puff of Big Tobacco, responsible for trillions of plastic cigarette butts in the environment every year. And it combines the lobbying and public-relations might of all three.

Americans have occasionally crusaded against “problem plastics” — scapegoating packing peanuts, grocery bags, or drinking straws for the sins of our unsustainable consumer economy. We’ve been slow to recognize that we’re actually in the midst of a plastic pandemic. Over the past 70 years, we’ve gotten hooked on disposable goods and packaging — as plastics became the lifeblood of an American culture of speed, convenience, and disposability that’s conquered the globe. Plastic contains our hot coffee and frozen dinners. It is the material of childhood, from Pampers to Playmobil to PlayStation 4. It cloaks our e-commerce purchases and is woven into our sneakers, fast fashion, and business fleece. Humans are now using a million plastic bottles a minute, and 500 billion plastic bags a year — including those we use to bag up our plastic-laden trash.

But the world’s plastic waste is not so easily contained. Massive quantities of this forever material are spilling into the oceans — the equivalent of a dump-truck load every minute. Plastic is also fouling our mountains, our farmland, and spiraling into an unmitigatable environmental disaster. John Hocevar is a marine biologist who leads the Oceans Campaign for Greenpeace, and spearheaded the group’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Increasingly, his work has centered on plastics. “This is a much bigger problem than ‘just’ an ocean issue, or even a pollution issue,” he says. “We’ve found plastic everywhere we’ve ever looked. It’s in the Arctic and the Antarctic and in the middle of the Pacific. It’s in the Pyrenees and in the Rockies. It’s settling out of the air. It’s raining down on us.” MORE

Big Oil’s Plan B is already in the pipeline: More plastic

As public concern about plastic pollution rises, consumers are reaching for canvas bags, metal straws, and reusable water bottles. But while individuals fret over images of oceanic garbage gyres, the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries are pouring billions of dollars into new plants intended to make millions more tons of plastic than they now pump out.

Companies like ExxonMobil, Shell, and Saudi Aramco are ramping up output of plastic — which is made from oil and gas, and their byproducts — to hedge against the possibility that a serious global response to climate change might reduce demand for their fuels, analysts say. Petrochemicals, the category that includes plastic, now account for 14 percent of oil use, and are expected to drive half of oil demand growth between now and 2050, the International Energy Agency says. The World Economic Forum predicts plastic production will double in the next 20 years.

“In the context of a world trying to shift off of fossil fuels as an energy source, this is where [oil and gas companies] see the growth,” said Steven Feit, a staff attorney at the Center for International Environmental Law, an advocacy group.

And because the American fracking boom is unearthing, along with natural gas, large amounts of the plastic feedstock ethane, the United States is a big growth area for plastic production. With natural gas prices low, many fracking operations are losing money, so producers have been eager to find a use for the ethane they get as a byproduct of drilling.

“They’re looking for a way to monetize it,” Feit said. “You can think of plastic as a kind of subsidy for fracking.”

America’s petrochemical hub has historically been the Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana, with a stretch along the lower Mississippi River dubbed “Cancer Alley” because of the impact of toxic emissions. Producers are expanding their footprint there with a slew of new projects, and proposals for more. They are also seeking to create a new plastics corridor in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, where fracking wells are rich in ethane.

Shell is building a $6 billion ethane cracking plant — a facility that turns ethane into ethylene, a building block for many kinds of plastic — in Monaca, Pennsylvania, 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. It is expected to produce up to 1.6 million tons of plastic annually after it opens in the early 2020s. It’s just the highest profile piece of what the industry hails as a “renaissance in U.S. plastics manufacturing,” whose output goes not only into packaging and single-use items such as cutlery, bottles, and bags, but also longer-lasting uses like construction materials and parts for cars and airplanes.

Since 2010, companies have invested more than $200 billion in 333 plastic and other chemical projects in the U.S., including expansions of existing facilities, new plants, and associated infrastructure such as pipelines, says the American Chemistry Council, an industry body. While some are already running or under construction, other projects await regulators’ approval.

“That’s why 2020 is so crucial. There are a lot of these facilities that are in the permitting process. We’re pretty close to it all being too late,” said Judith Enck, founder of Beyond Plastics and a former regional director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “If even a quarter of these ethane cracking facilities are built, it’s locking us into a plastic future that is going to be hard to recover from.”

Global emissions linked to plastic — now just under 900 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent annually — could by 2030 reach 1.3 billion tons, as much as almost 300 coal-fired power plants, the Center for International Environmental Law found. If output grows as planned, plastic would use up between 10 and 13 percent of the carbon emissions allowable if warming is to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Center reported. MORE

France begins radical plan to phase out single-use plastic

zero-waste lifestyle

© Igisheva Maria

The French government has set a goal of eliminating all single-use plastics by 2040. Phase one has begun.

I was recently in Paris and was shocked at how little single-use plastic I saw, especially compared to how much of it I see in New York City. Here we kvetch about the impossibility of giving up such convenience, but in France? Shoppers look great with their net bags, people take coffee breaks in cafes, and nobody is panicked about dying of dehydration if they can’t have a plastic water bottle constantly at hand.

As it turns out, on January 1, the first part of an ambitious plan to phase out single use plastic had begun – which includes the ban of three single-use plastic products: plates, cups, and cotton buds. And from what I saw, the Parisian public has already gone way beyond that.

You’d think it would be simple. We are drowning in plastic, a forever material that does not break down in nature and is causing all kinds of mayhem in the natural world. At most 9 percent of plastic produced globally is recycled, yet global plastic production continues to skyrocket. “The last 15 years saw more plastic produced than in all previous human history, and plastic production is expected to triple again by 2050,” notes France24.

But it’s not simple because plastic is made from petroleum – and as petrochemical companies are facing the possibility of reduced demand for fuel, they are ramping up plastic production. Few industries have as much power as the fossil fuel one does, and thus, fighting plastic is no easy task. In the United States, there are actual bans against plastic bans. It is truly a travesty.

Which is why big moves to ban plastic are big news – and I dare say, “radical.” It’s not easy bucking big oil and the plastic industry, nor is it easy to convince consumers to give up the convenience of disposables.

The French government’s goal is to phase out all single-use plastics by 2040, in accordance with European Union directives. But the EU target, while admirable, is also vague and asks countries only to “significantly reduce” their consumption. France’s ambitious plan seems like a great example of how to do it. Here is the schedule, according to the new decree:

  • As mentioned above, in 2020 single-use plastic plates, cups, and cotton buds are banned.
  • In 2021, disposable cutlery, plastic takeout cup lids, confetti, drink stirrers, foam containers, plastic straws, and produce packaging containers will be banned. And there will be penalties for excessive plastic packaging. There will also be the deployment of bulk distribution set-ups for which vendors will have to allow customers to use their own containers.
  • In 2022, plastic teabags and fast-food toys will be verboten – as will disposable dishes at restaurants. Water fountains will be mandatory in public buildings. Companies will no longer be allowed to give out free water bottles.

Shops will have six months to use up any stock they have. And there is a temporary exemption for compostable products containing at least 50 percent organic materials, and also for cutlery used in health and corrections facilities, as well as on trains and airplanes. But, those exemptions will expire in July 2021.

But honestly, from what I saw, the general public is already way ahead of the deadlines – and there is a lot to be learned. See how they do it here: 6 zero-waste lessons from Paris. SOURCE

‘Deep state’ lobbying a growing tactic of fossil fuel industry, report finds

Since Justin Trudeau’s government took power in 2015, lobbyists in Ottawa have focused more attention on the nation’s bureaucrats, rather than elected office holders, representing what one researcher is calling a troubling ‘fusion of private interest and public bodies’

Public officials faced ‘organized and sustained’ oil and gas lobbying on pipelines in recent years: study. Lobbying contacts by industry groups far outnumbered contacts by environmental NGOs. 

A new report from the Corporate Mapping Project documents the reach of the fossil fuel industry when it comes to lobbying the federal government, raising red flags about what it calls a “troubling shift in lobbying patterns.”

The report’s findings suggest that industry lobbyists are increasingly focusing on developing closer, long-term relationships with federal bureaucrats rather than elected officials, especially since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took office in 2015.

The report tracked fossil-fuel-industry lobbying over seven years, from 2011 to 2018 — finding that the fossil fuel industry vastly outnumbered other resource sectors, including the forestry and renewable energy industries — and analyzed how lobbying activities changed with prime ministers.

The result, the report found, is lobbying that’s increasingly focused on “deep state” connections, rather than elected officials, meaning the power of the fossil fuel industry lasts far beyond a federal election, regardless of voter appetite for climate action.

What that means, according to Nicolas Graham, a sociologist at the University of Victoria and lead author on the report, is there’s evidence of a sort of “elite policy network,” of long-lasting connections between high-powered and well-connected lobbyists and bureaucrats, “one that outlasts election cycles and develops over time.”

Proponents of the fossil fuel industry, like Alberta premier Jason Kenney, have long made a point of accusing environmental groups of being behind a “campaign of lies and defamation” against the province’s energy industry.

When it comes to lobbying, the report found that the fossil fuel industry reported far more lobbying of the federal government than did environmental non-governmental organizations —  five times more.

“This idea that there’s a really, really well funded — disproportionately funded — environmental campaign defies the facts of a [fossil fuel] industry that is extremely well funded and very active politically,” Graham told The Narwhal.

Top Fossil Fuel Lobbying Organizations Canada

Top fossil fuel lobbying organizations. Source: Corporate Mapping Project

‘Co-writing of policy’

Elected officials were the most-lobbied group when Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in office, according to the report. That started to change in 2015, when Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister. Then, the focus of fossil-fuel lobbyists shifted — to bureaucrats.

The report, “Big Oil’s Political Reach: Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau,”  dubs this a shift to “deep state” lobbying, “whereby key government institutions and actors become integrated with private firms and interest groups that together co-produce regulation and policy.”

“It becomes this kind of a fusion of private interest and public bodies.” — Nicolas Graham

The result, Graham said, could suggest a kind of “co-governance and co-writing of policy,” in which industry groups take on an increasingly important role in influencing policy.

“It becomes this kind of a fusion of private interest and public bodies,” he added

Elected officials, Graham said, could be “seen as potentially not as amenable to influence from the oil and gas sector.” A strategic approach for the industry could be to integrate more deeply in government, lobbying bureaucrats rather than elected officials.

The report finds a network of well-connected senior public servants and mid-level staff who are in frequent contact with industry lobbyists.

Among the top 10 senior federal bureaucrats identified by the Corporate Mapping Project — each of whom remained in their positions after the 2015 election — the number of annual contacts with fossil fuel industry lobbyists increased from an average of around 145 contacts per year under the Harper government, to approximately 229 per year under the Trudeau government — nearly one contact per work day.

Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the Mining Association of Canada, doesn’t think that’s newsworthy. “Anyone who does government relations knows that you work at all levels,” Gratton told The Narwhal.

“If you’re leaving it to parliament, you’re going to be disappointed in your outcome. Because the public service is the body that generates the ideas that cabinet and ultimately parliament end up deliberating upon,” he added.

“They’re often looking to us for ideas of how certain policies can work effectively.”

Gratton is also not surprised that there would be an increase in lobbying under the Liberals. “There would be a very simple explanation for that, I think — the Liberals’ approach to public policy was far more open than it was under Harper,” he said.

“Under the Liberals, I think probably everybody increased their amount of lobbying, particularly with public service. But that’s because the Liberals fundamentally changed how public policy was developed.” The Liberals, Gratton said, took public officials “off the leash” and made them more accessible to all groups.

But Graham is concerned that increased lobbying of non-elected officials could mean that lobbying efforts can far outlast election cycles and that electing new politicians may not be enough for voters to cast aside deep relationships between industry and government — something the report calls “the close coupling of federal policy to the needs of extractive corporations.”

“For people who voted in the federal election for some kind of increased action on climate change, I think it would be potentially eye-opening to think about the way policy is formed,” Graham said.

Six lobbying contacts per day

The reports finds the fossil fuel industry reported 11,452 lobbying contacts with government officials over a seven-year period — more than six contacts per work day.

A full quarter of those stem from two major industry associations: the Mining Association of Canada (MAC) — which represents a variety of mining interests, including four companies with interests in Alberta’s oilsands — and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP).

CAPP declined The Narwhal’s request for an interview about its lobbying activity, but sent a statement by email.

“It is not surprising CAPP is among the most active lobbyists in our sector,” Jay Averill, a spokesperson for CAPP, wrote in an email. “In effect, we are the main representative for Canada’s oil and natural gas industry.”

Federal Institutions Lobbied

Federal institutions lobbied between 2011 and 2018. Source: Corporate Mapping Project

“It is our job to work with local, provincial and federal governments to find the best way to encourage investment in our industry while upholding the high social and environmental standards Canadians expect,” he added, noting that the industry contributes $8 billion in annual revenues to all levels of government.

“Our oil and natural gas industry benefits all Canadians and CAPP will continue to work with the federal government on making those benefits even greater.”

Gratton, of the Mining Association of Canada, rejects the notion that his organization represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry, saying his group advocates on a narrower subset of issues and was the first industry association that came out in favour of a carbon price.

Gratton told The Narwhal that one of the reasons his organization is top of the list in lobbying activities could be because it is diligent in reporting.

“We report everything. We’re very careful about living up to the intent and spirit of the act,” he said.

 “I have trouble believing we are much more active than other industry groups active in Ottawa,” he added, pointing to a “grey area” in when meetings with public officials are reported.

The Corporate Mapping Project report points to numerous flaws in Canada’s lobbying rules — vague information about what was actually discussed at lobbying meetings, lack of names of lobbyists present, imprecise dates, no disclosure of fees paid to lobbyists.

“There are fairly straightforward ways transparency could be improved,” Graham said.

Lobbying windows

Lobbying efforts increase in what are known as “lobbying windows,” according to the report.

One such lobbying window was during debate leading up to changes to Canada’s environmental assessment process under the Harper government. The report found that — of the years included in the report’s analysis — the year between November 2011 and November 2012 was the highest recorded year of lobbying from the sector.

The report’s findings on lobbying windows are in line with a previous investigation by The Narwhal, which found that 80 per cent of Senate lobbying over Bill C-69 — the act to reform Canada’s environmental assessment process, that passed in June —  stemmed from industry and related groups, primarily from the oil and gas industry.

The Corporate Mapping Project report found just 10 fossil fuel industry lobbying contacts with the Senate in 2016-2017. The Narwhal found the oil and gas industry met with individual Senate members 224 times over a 16-month period beginning when Bill-C-69 was first introduced in February 2018.

“In 2018–19 big carbon saw an opportunity to block mild reforms to environmental assessment and its Senate lobbying went into overdrive,” the report notes.

As The Narwhal reported in June, CAPP had described, in its lobbyist registration, one of the topics it planned to address a “grassroots lobbying campaign to ask Senators to make sure [Bill C-69] does not pass as it stands today.”

Leaders of major energy companies have acknowledged increasing their lobbying efforts during times like these in the past.

Speaking to CBC in June, Cenovus CEO Alex Pourbaix noted that the industry had ramped up activities to “an almost unprecedented effort with government,” in order to come up with what he had hoped would be “a workable bill.”

Not all industry groups opposed the bill. The Mining Association of Canada has supported Bill C-69 since it was introduced, telling CBC in June that it would provide more certainty and was an improvement over existing legislation.

Public interest?

Graham is quick to point out that not all lobbying is negative, and that it can play a legitimate role in advancing the public interest. What’s missing, he said, is an equalization of influence, or “equalizing access” to politicians and bureaucrats.

The report documents a “core of a small world of leading industry associations and targeted offices and individuals within government that are in regular contact with each other” — just 20 organizations accounted for 88 per cent of the total lobbying contacts by the fossil fuel industry, according to the report.

“Policies that would proactively support more equal access to political influence are needed to ensure industry is not over-represented when shaping policy,” the report notes.

Gratton of the Mining Association isn’t concerned about the state of lobbying activities in Canada, saying critics may be presenting “a sensationalized view that’s really not really a truly representative accounting of how things function.”

“Canada’s [lobbying] is very different from lobbying in the United States,” he said. “It doesn’t happen in darkened corridors.”

Gratton views Canada’s lobbying rules as robust, and says he supports multi-stakeholder engagement. “I’ll be honest, in this age of sort of populism and Trumpism, I worry that that unique Canadian way of doing things is under threat,” he told The Narwhal.

“I would hate to see a day when in the public policy is developed differently than it has been traditionally in Canada,” he said. “It’s a better way of doing things that’s better for the country.”

But Graham told The Narwhal that he’s concerned about the ways in which corporations can influence public policy in Canada.

“The economic power of industry ends up reaching into political society,” he said.

And without equal access to influence political decisions, the report warns that meaningful action to reduce fossil fuel consumption may be that much more difficult.

“In this time of climate crisis, transitioning away from fossil fuels in a rapid, democratic and socially just manner is essential,” William Carroll, a co-author of the study said in a press release.

“If we do not acknowledge and address the influence that the fossil fuel industry holds over government policy, we will not be able to take the steps necessary to adequately address the crisis with the urgency it requires.” SOURCE

Trans Mountain project: A timeline | Vancouver Sun


Big Oil’s Political Reach

Mapping fossil fuel lobbying from Harper to Trudeau

Image result for stephen harper justin trudeau

In Canada between 2011 and 2018 the fossil fuel industry was one of the most active industry groups lobbying the federal government with over six contacts per working day made with government officials. During this period, the intensity of lobbying increased when salient policy issues—like the Environmental Assessment Act—arose or when there were big stakes for industry such as major pipeline decisions and approvals.

This study provides a network analysis of federal lobbying by the fossil fuel industry in Canada, covering both the Conservative government of Stephen Harper and the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

The network this research uncovers amounts to a small world of intense interaction among relatively few lobbyists and the designated public office holders who are their targets.

In comparing lobbying across the Harper and Trudeau administrations, we find a pattern of continuity-in-change: under Trudeau, the bulk of lobbying was carried out by the same large firms as under Harper but focused more on government bureaucrats rather than the members of Parliament who were more frequently contacted under Harper.

The shifting pattern in focus is concerning as it indicates that elite policy networks outlast election cycles and potentially the stated platforms of elected officials. The study also examines lobbying in relation to specific projects such as pipeline proposals and decisions.

The lobbying period under examination coincides with a period during which climate change was acknowledged as an increasingly urgent threat and one in which the Canadian economy became focused significantly around carbon intensive resources.  SOURCE

This report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry in Western Canada. The CMP is jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute. 

Report looks at captured nature of BC’s Oil and Gas Commission


From an early stage, BC’s Oil and Gas Commission bore the hallmarks of a captured regulator. The very industry that the Commission was formed to regulate had a significant hand in its creation and, too often, the interests of the industry it regulates take precedence over the public interest.

This report looks at the evolution of the Commission, the phenomenon of captured regulators and some troubling examples of rules the agency was formed to uphold were systematically broken with few—if any—serious consequences for the companies that violated them or for the Commission failing to uphold them. These examples point to regulatory breakdown of a massive scale and the need for major reforms to better safeguard the public interest.

This report reveals that from an early stage BC’s Oil and Gas Commission bore the hallmarks of a captured regulator. The very industry that it was formed to regulate had a significant hand in its creation and, too often, the interests of the industry it regulates take precedence over the public interest.

This study looks at the evolution of the Commission, the phenomenon of captured regulators and some troubling examples of rules the agency was formed to uphold were systematically broken with few—if any—serious consequences for the companies that violated them or for the Commission failing to uphold them. These examples point to regulatory breakdown of a massive scale and the need for major reforms to better safeguard the public interest.

The report concludes with a list of recommended policy changes to address some of the more glaring shortcomings of the current regulatory approach with specific attention paid to ensuring the changes reflect the government’s avowed commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This report is part of the Corporate Mapping Project, a research and public engagement initiative investigating the power of the fossil fuel industry in Western Canada. The CMP is jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute. SOURCE



Frack Quakes: Knowledge Is Weak as BC Drilling Grows
UBC study underscores need for continuous monitoring of fugitive methane emissions


Why Big Oil faces court cases that echo the litigation against Big Tobacco in the ’90s

Case that began in New York this week delves into what industry knew about climate change and when

The oil industry is facing a series of legal cases that are expected to examine what companies knew about the potential impact of climate change, when they knew it, and what they did with that information. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

How much did the oil industry know about the impact of fossil fuel emissions on the climate? When did they know it? And what did they do with that knowledge?

Those are the central questions in a series of court cases attempting to hold companies accountable for their role in climate change.

It’s been called Big Oil’s “Big Tobacco” moment, echoing the famous litigation that exposed how tobacco companies deliberately generated scientific uncertainty even though they knew that cigarettes cause cancer.

“They are brought under very similar legal theory,” said Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at the UCLA School of Law. “That is that the companies are creating a public harm or public nuisance by misleading the public about whether their product actually causes harm.”

After years of pretrial wrangling, the first Big Oil case began in civil court in New York on Tuesday. Lawyers for Exxon Mobil face accusations from the state’s attorney general that the company misled shareholders about how it was calculating the cost of future government policies to limit carbon emissions.

Environmental law professor Ann Carlson is following the litigation against the oil industry closely and says the cases have a ‘decent chance’ of success. (UCLA School of Law)

Exxon Mobil has publicly denied the allegations.

“The New York attorney general’s allegations are false,” Exxon Mobil spokesperson Steven Soper told CBC News in an email. “We tell investors through regular disclosures how the company accounts for risks associated with climate change. We are confident in the facts and look forward to seeing our company exonerated in court.”

Meanwhile, a similar investor case is being investigated by the attorney general of Massachusetts.

There are more than a dozen other lawsuits in the U.S. against the industry at various stages in the legal process. Those cases have been launched by municipal and state governments, including New York CityBaltimoreSan Francisco and Rhode Island, all attempting to hold oil companies accountable for climate-related damages.

The details of the cases differ, but they share a common thread.

“They are based on allegations that the oil companies engaged in systematic misrepresentation of information, [that they] kept sort of one set of information internally and then told the public something else,” said Carlson.

In Rhode Island’s complaint against nearly two dozen energy companies, the state describes “a co-ordinated, multi-front effort” by the industry “to conceal and deny their own knowledge of those threats.” It alleges the companies “have known for decades that those impacts could be catastrophic and that only a narrow window existed to take action before the consequences would be irreversible.”

Canadian cities considering climate litigation

In Canada, there are similar legal rumblings against the industry.

Toronto city council has referred a notice of motion to staff to research “the long-term cost implications of climate change to City of Toronto’s infrastructure and programs.” Staff are also instructed to examine “any legal avenues to pursue compensation for these costs from major greenhouse gas emitters.”

Victoria is currently getting a legal opinion, which will be offered free to other cities.

And more than a dozen B.C. municipalities have sent a letter asking various oil companies to pay their share of climate-mitigation costs.

Andrew Gage is with West Coast Environmental Law group in Victoria, which is urging municipalities to launch court cases against the industry to try to recover damages from sea-level rise and other climate-related impacts.

“Municipalities can’t afford to not try to clarify the legal obligations of these companies,” he said. “What we’ve suggested is the local governments in B.C. need to be looking at a class action lawsuit that would allow a number of communities to pool their resources and work together to hold these really large global companies accountable.” MORE


Commentary by Elizabeth May: We must end our reliance on fossil fuels

a10 10152019 green-may.jpgGreen Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks at the federal leaders’ election debate on Thursday in Gatineau, Que. Oct. 10, 2019 Photograph By CHRIS WATTIE, THE CANADIAN PRESS

“Humanity is conducting an unprecedented, uncontrolled globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to global nuclear war.”

That was the opening sentence to the consensus finding of international scientists gathered for the first global climate conference, “Our Changing Atmosphere; implications for global security.”

It was held in a heat wave, in the last week of June 1988, in Toronto. As senior policy adviser to the minister of environment, I helped organize that conference.

I was optimistic. We had public attention. Two prime ministers (Canada and Norway) addressed the conference. We kick-started the launching of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the negotiations leading to the foundation framework treaty on the threat of global warming.

Is it a gift or a curse to be prevented from seeing the future?

Had I imagined then that more than 30 years later we would still be arguing about when we should get started in earnest, I do not know how I could have handled the horror of it.

It is a slow-motion horror. In June 1992, every nation on Earth committed at the Rio Earth Summit, in a legally binding treaty, to reduce greenhouse gases such that we could avoid levels of climate change that could be “dangerous.” Instead, between 1992 and now, humanity has burned more fossil fuels, emitting more greenhouse gases, than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and 1992.

In other words, well past the point that we understood human-caused climate change to be a major threat to our future, we put our foot on the gas to amplify the risk.

No wonder Greta Thunberg is shaking with rage. So am I.

…It is clear to me that two major obstacles blocked our progress. One was the well-funded campaigns of Big Oil to lie to us about the science. The other was the perennial problem of short-term political thinking, always seeking partisan advantage. We must set aside partisanship. I am calling for the equivalent of a “war cabinet” to ensure a non-partisan approach to our survival.

Holding to no more than a 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase is not a political target. That goal, agreed to by all the nations in Paris, is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with physics. It is now Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advice that shooting past 1.5 degrees means that children alive today are unlikely to have a functional human civilization through their lives. Shooting past 2 or 3 degrees means that the hospitality of this planet for lifeforms like us is very much in doubt.  MORE

Will Andrew Scheer ruin Canada?

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer appears in a drawing by Victor Juhasz for National Observer. Victor Juhasz illustration

Standing in a forest of ash and birch trees about a 45-minute drive southwest of downtown Calgary, the Azuridge Estate Hotel is a luxury resort replete with fountains, waterfalls, gray stone façades and exposed wooden beams. It’s a popular wedding destination.

In a conference room at this verdant retreat on April 11, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer and his campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, were huddling with a group of oil company CEOs along with Tim McMillan, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Big Oil’s most powerful lobby group. All of the CEOs present, in fact, are members of CAPP’s board of governors.

One purpose of this meeting? To strategize on how to defeat Justin Trudeau’s government in the federal election this month. The agenda also included discussions about how to silence environmental critics of pipeline projects and the tar sands, including suing them in court.

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer reacts to the Liberal carbon pricing announcement in Ottawa on Oct. 23, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault 

Scheer provided the keynote address, while Marshall spoke about “rallying the base” by using friendly interest groups.
To some, this meeting at the Azuridge “gave evidence that, guess what, things haven’t really changed a whole lot,” says Nathan Lemphers, an Ottawa-based campaigner with Oil Change International, an advocacy organization that fights the fossil fuel sector.


“(The Conservatives) are still very cozy with oil industry interests and oil money. We’ve seen what that’s done to Alberta politics and it was no different with federal politics under the Harper government.”

CAPP disputes that the event itself was related to the election. But the fact that Andrew Scheer and his inner circle were scheming with oil industry executives to oust Trudeau comes as no surprise. After all, Scheer is widely acknowledged to be a creature of the house that Stephen Harper built — a party designed to serve the energy sector’s interests at every turn. MORE

Natasha Lennard: Ecocide Should Be Recognized as a Crime Against Humanity, but We Can’t Wait for The Hague to Judge

The image of Darren Woods, CEO of Exxon Mobil, loomed over the climate strike in New York last Friday afternoon. Rendered in cardboard, 15 feet tall and clutching a bag of fake, bloodied money, the puppet of Woods wore the label “Climate Villain.” It bobbed among the 250,000-strong crowd, joined by cutout versions of BP CEO Bob Dudley and Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden. By the time the puppets were set down in Battery Park, the terminus of the New York protest, the faces of the fossil fuel executives had been daubed with marker-pen devil horns.

As millions of workers and students filled city streets around the world last week, there was no shortage of bold and inventive protest signs. While many expressed broad concerns about the burning planet and an imperiled future, a number, like the CEO puppets, were unambiguous in their antagonism towards the fossil fuel industry and its political enablers. With the stakes of global heating intolerable, and the fanglessness of international climate agreements undeniable, it is little wonder that activists are calling for the major perpetrators of environmental decimation to be seen as guilty parties in mass atrocity, on a par with war crimes and genocide. The demand that ecocide — the decimation of ecosystems, humanity and non-human life — be prosecutable by The International Criminal Court has found renewed force in a climate movement increasingly unafraid to name its enemies.

The push to establish ecocide as an international crime aims to create criminal liability for chief executives and government ministers, while creating a legal duty of care for life on earth. Its strength, however, lies not in the practical or likely ability of The Hague — a profoundly flawed judicial body — to deliver climate justice. The demand that ecocide be recognized as a crime against humanity and non-human life is most powerful as a heuristic: a framework for insisting that environmental destruction has nameable guilty parties, perpetrators of mass atrocity, against whom climate struggle must be waged on numerous fronts.

WHEN IT COMES to narratives about environmental degradation, the greatest lie of all is that people are not responsible. The second greatest lie is that people are equally responsible. Last year, the New York Times Magazine published an entire issue dedicated to one extended essay by novelist Nathaniel Rich. It was framed as a devastating and overdue exposure of how we could have prevented climate catastrophe in the 1980s, given available scientific understanding, but “we” did not. “All the facts were known, and nothing stood in our way,” wrote Rich. “Nothing, that is, except ourselves.” Rich’s story conveniently ignores the ferocious capitalist hierarchies, which decimate natural resources for profit, while state militaries and police forces help quash environmentalist and indigenous resistance — just think of the militarized police assaults and swathes of criminal charges faced by the Water Protectors who took a stand at Standing Rock.

No climate justice will be possible without bringing down the powerful actors standing in the way of cutting emissions and production.

Legal norms and rights can and do take on political life through direct action, community consultation and protest. Even if the court’s signatories resist adopting ecocide as a crime, or as is likely, the court fails to prosecute, let alone convict, the world’s worst climate criminals, we can and must take justice into our own hands. Collective action — like last week’s mass climate strike, like voting for leaders pushing a Green New Deal, like fighting for our lives against capitalism — must be pursued with vigor. This is how we take the fight against ecocide to its perpetrators.