The Earth Is Telling Us We Must Rethink Our Growth Society

Why COVID-19 previews a larger crash. What we must do to save ourselves.

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In two centuries, human population has spiked seven-fold and consumption by 100 times. ‘The Earth will have its revenge,’ warns noted UBC systems ecologist William Rees, co-inventor of the ecological footprint concept. Photo by Joseph Stevenson via Flickr/Creative Commons.

As the pandemic builds, most people, led by government officials and policy wonks, perceive the threat solely in terms of human health and its impact on the national economy. Consistent with the prevailing vision, mainstream media call almost exclusively on physicians and epidemiologists, financiers and economists to assess the consequences of the viral outbreak.

Fair enough — rampant disease and looming recession are genuine immediate concerns; society has to cope with them.

That said, we must see and respond to the more important reality.

However horrific the COVID-19 pandemic may seem, it is merely one symptom of gross human ecological dysfunction. The prospect of economic implosion is directly connected. The overarching reality is that the human enterprise is in a state of overshoot.

We are using nature’s goods and life-support services faster than ecosystems can regenerate. There are simply too many people consuming too much stuff. Even at current global average levels of consumption (about a third of the Canadian average) the human population far exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of Earth. We’d need almost five Earth-like planets to support just the present world population indefinitely at Canadian average material standards. Gaian theory tells us that life continuously creates the conditions necessary for life. Yet humanity has gone rogue, rapidly destroying those conditions.

When will the media call on systems ecologists to explain what’s really going on? If they did, we might learn the following:

That the current pandemic is an inevitable consequence of human populations everywhere expanding into the habitats of other species with which we have had little previous contact (H. sapiens is the most invasive of “invasive species”).

That the pandemic results from sometimes desperately impoverished people eating bushmeat, the flesh of wild species carrying potentially dangerous pathogens.

That contagious disease is readily propagated because of densification and urbanization — think Wuhan or New York — but particularly (as we may soon see) because of the severe overcrowding of vulnerable people in the burgeoning slums and barrios of the developing world.

That the coronavirus thrives because three billion people still lack basic hand-washing facilities and more than four billion lack adequate sanitation services.

A population ecologist might even dare explain that, even when it comes to human numbers, whatever goes up must come down.

None of this is visible through our current economic lens that assumes a perpetually growing, globalized market economy.

Prevailing myth notwithstanding, nothing in nature can grow forever.

When, under especially favourable conditions any species’ population balloons, it is always deflated by one or several forms of negative feedback — disease, inadequate habitat, self-pollution, food shortages, resource scarcity, conflict over what’s left (war), etc. All of these various countervailing forces are triggered by excess population itself.

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Human-set fires in the Amazon: The current pandemic is an inevitable consequence of human populations everywhere expanding into the habitats of other species with which we have had little previous contact. Photo: Pixabay Creative Commons.

True, in simple ecosystems certain consuming species may exhibit regular cycles of uncontrolled expansion. We sometimes refer to these outbreaks as “plagues” — think swarms of locusts or rodents.

However, the plague phase of the cycle invariably ends in collapse as negative feedback once again gains the upper hand.

Bottom line? There are no exceptions to the first law of plague dynamics: the unconstrained expansion of any species’ population invariably destroys the conditions that enabled the expansion, thus triggering collapse.

This unprecedented outbreak is attributable to H. sapiens’ technological ingenuity, e.g., modern medicine and especially the use of fossil fuels. (The latter enabled the continuous increases in food production and provided access to all the other resources needed to expand the human enterprise.)

The problem is that Earth is a finite planet, on which the seven-fold increase in human numbers, vastly augmented by a 100-fold increase in consumption, is systematically destroying prospects for continued civilized existence. Over-harvesting is depleting non-renewable resources; land degradation, pollution, and global warming are destroying entire ecosystems; biophysical life support functions are beginning to fail.

With increasing real scarcity, growing extraction costs, and burgeoning human demand, the prices for non-renewable metal and mineral resources have been rising for 20 years (from historic lows at the turn of the century). Meanwhile, petroleum may have peaked in 2018 signalling the pending implosion of the oil industry (abetted by falling demand and prices resulting from the COVID-19 recession).

These are all signs of resurgent negative feedback. The explosion of human consumption is beginning to resemble the plague phase of what may turn out to be a one-off human population cycle. If we don’t manage a controlled contraction, chaotic collapse is inevitable.

Which brings us back to society’s restricted focus on COVID-19 and the economy.

Listen to the news, to politicians and pundits in this time of crisis. You will hear virtually no reference to climate change (remember climate change?), wildfires, biodiversity loss, ocean pollution, sea level rise, tropical deforestation, land/soil degradation, or human expansion into wildlands.

Nor is there a hint of understanding that these trends are connected to each other and to the pandemic.

Discussion in the mainstream focusses doggedly on defeating COVID-19, facilitating recovery, restoring growth and otherwise getting back to normal. After all, as Gregory Bateson has written, “That is the paradigm: Treat the symptom to make the world safe for the pathology.”

Let that sink in: “Normal” is the pathology.

But returning to “normal” guarantees a repeat performance. There will be other pandemics, potentially worse than COVID-19. (Unless, of course, some other form of negative feedback gets to us first — as noted, there is no shortage of potential candidates.)

Consider the present pandemic as yellow flagging for what nature may yet have in store. Earth will have its revenge. Unless, to avoid full-on negative feedback, we stand back and re-focus. This means consciously overriding humans’ natural myopia, thinking generations ahead and abandoning our perpetual growth narrative.

Surely the time has come to reconsider what seems to have become a “self-terminating experiment with industrialism.”

To save itself, society must adopt an eco-centric lens. This would enable us to see the human enterprise as a fully dependent subsystem of the ecosphere. We need to script a new cultural narrative consistent with this vision. We must reduce the human ecological footprint to eliminate overshoot — below is a curve that really needs flattening.

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A different curve to flatten: Let’s start with a 50-per-cent reduction in energy and material throughput, as implicit in the 2015 Paris climate accord. Provided by William Rees.

Our cultural reset cannot end there. As medical supplies and equipment run out and supply chains stretch or break, people everywhere are becoming conscious of hazards associated with today’s increasingly unsustainable entanglement of nations.

We will have much to celebrate if community self-reliance, resilience and stability are once again valued more than interdependence, efficiency and growth. Specialization, globalization and just-in-time trade in vital commodities have gone too far. COVID-19 has shown that future security may well reside more in local economic diversity. For one thing, countries under stress may begin hoarding vital commodities for domestic use. (As if on cue, on April 3, Donald Trump, president of Canada’s biggest trading partner, requested 3M to suspend exports of badly-needed respirator face masks to Canada and Latin America.) Surely we need permanent policies for the re-localization of vital economic activities through a strategic approach to import displacement.

We might also build on the better side of human nature as ironically invigorated by our collective war on COVID-19. In many places, society’s fear of disease has been leavened by a revived sense of community, solidarity, compassion, and mutual aid. Recognition that disease strikes the impoverished hardest and that the pandemic threatens to widen the income gap has renewed calls for a return to more progressive taxation and implementation of a national minimum wage.

The emergency also draws attention to the importance of the informal care economy — child rearing and elder care are often voluntary and historically subsidize our paid economy. And what about renewed public investment worldwide in girls’ education, women’s health and family planning? Certainly individual actions are not enough. We are in a collective crisis that demands collective solutions.

To those still committed to the pre-COVID-19 perpetual-growth-through-technology paradigm, economic contraction equates to unmitigated catastrophe. We can give them no hope but to accept a new reality.

Like it or not, we are at the end of growth. The pandemic will certainly induce a recession and possibly a global depression, likely reducing Gross World Product by a quarter.

There are good reasons to think that there can be no “recovery” to pre-COVID “normal” even if we were foolish enough to try. Ours has been a debt-leveraged economy. Thousands of marginal firms will be bankrupted; some will be bought up by others with deeper pockets (further concentrating wealth) but most will disappear; millions of people will be left unemployed, possibly impoverished without ongoing public support.

The oil patch is particularly hard hit. Canada’s tar sands producers who need $40 dollars a barrel to survive are being offered one tenth that, less than the price of a mug of beer. Meanwhile, oil production may have peaked and older fields upon which the world still depends are declining at a rate of six per cent per year.

This heralds a future crisis: GWP and energy consumption have historically increased in lock-step; industrial economies depend utterly on abundant cheap energy. After the current short-term demand-drop surplus dries up, it will be years (if ever) before there is adequate new supply to replicate pre-pandemic levels of global economic activity — and there are no adequate ”green’”substitutes. Much of the economy will have to be rebuilt to size in ways that reflect this emergent reality.

And herein lies the great opportunity to salvage global civilization.

Clearing skies and cleaner waters should inspire hopeful ingenuity. Indeed, if we wish to thrive on a finite planet, we have little choice but to see the COVID-19 pandemic as preview and our response as dress rehearsal for the bigger play. Again, the challenge is to engineer a safe, smooth, controlled contraction of the human enterprise. Surely it is within our collective imagination to socially construct a system of globally networked but self-reliant national economies that better serve the needs of a smaller human family.

The ultimate goal of economic planning everywhere must now turn to ensuring that humanity can thrive indefinitely and more equitably within the biophysical means of nature.  SOURCE

 

OPEN LETTER: UBCIC demands immediate release of all non-violent offenders as part of COVID-19 pandemic response and emergency state of Indigenous incarceration

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Honourable David Lametti
Minister of Justice & Attorney General
of Canada
Honourable Bill Blair
Minister of Public Safety &
Emergency Preparedness
Honourable David Eby
Attorney General

Honourable Mike Farnworth
Minister of Public Safety and
Solicitor General

OPEN LETTER: UBCIC demands immediate release of all non-violent offenders as part of COVID-19 pandemic response and emergency state of Indigenous incarceration

Dear Ministers,

Dr. Ivan Zinger, Canada’s Chief Correctional Officer, has called the current rates of Indigenous incarceration in Canada a national travesty, with nearly 1/3 of all inmates in Federal custody being Indigenous. In response to the growing rates of Indigenous people being sentenced to custody, the UBCIC Chiefs Council presented, affirmed and endorsed unanimously UBCIC Resolution 2020-03, “Call for Action to Declare Indigenous Incarceration Rates a State of Emergency” (attached), on February 27, 2020.

In the weeks since, the COVID-19 pandemic has seized the attention and the resources of the country, with governments rushing to mitigate losses. Crisis-reactions have allowed the most vulnerable people to be overlooked, and without immediate attention and drastic interventions, COVID-19 threatens the safety and wellbeing of incarcerated people across British Columbia and Canada. Over-crowding and insufficient sanitation could cause the virus to spread rapidly in correctional facilities, while insufficient medical and mental health resources increase its lethality. Article 7(1) of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the government of Canada has adopted without qualification, and has, alongside the government of BC, committed to implement, states that all Indigenous peoples have the rights to life, physical and mental integrity and security of person. It is the responsibility of your governments to ensure that international human rights of Indigenous people are protected and upheld during this pandemic.

The consequences of the pandemic for the criminal justice system will be disproportionately felt by Indigenous people, who remain dramatically over-incarcerated by BC and Canada. UBCIC demands incarceration levels be recognized as an emergency and requires an urgent response from BC and Canada on the issues contained in this letter.

By Resolution 2020-03, the UBCIC Chiefs Council calls upon the Federal and Provincial governments to commit to reducing the overall number of Indigenous people in custody at least 5% by 2022. With the current health crisis created by COVID-19, we ask that your governments elevate the urgency of this call and implement immediate strategies focused upon the decarceration of Indigenous peoples as a pandemic response. To facilitate this, we make the following recommendations:

    • Immediately develop release plans for low-risk and non-violent offenders;
    • Proactively identify all inmates who may be nearing eligibility for parole or statutory release and begin facilitating release plans;
    • Ensure corrections facilities have updated pandemic preparedness plans and adequate medical resources to humanely treat inmates who may contract the virus, including plans for quarantine and isolation that do not rely on over-use of solitary confinement;
    • Provide free calling and video-calling access for all incarcerated people to mitigate the consequences of lost visitations; and
    • Immediately call for the full decarceration of Indigenous youth in custody wherever possible, in line with the intentions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

In addition to the risk posed by COVID-19 mismanagement in prisons, we caution the use of policing for enforcement of pandemic-related sanctions. Where BC or Canada uses their authority to restrict civil liberties in order to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, you must work to ensure it does not put Indigenous people at risk of further criminalization. The use of police forces to disperse gatherings or regulate non-essential travel must not unduly target Indigenous peoples, and specifically must not endanger or target those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, or who may be facing significant socio-economic barriers to self-isolation.

While a response to the COVID-19 pandemic addressing the overincarceration of Indigenous peoples is needed now, we also require assurances that long-term decarceration work is not neglected. UBCIC calls for an ongoing commitment to the full decarceration of Indigenous peoples by taking the following steps:

    • Immediately re-establish the Law Reform Commission with a specific mandate to address the systemic and legislative factors that impact overincarceration and substantive inequality for Indigenous people involved in the criminal justice system; and
    • Work towards the transfer of jurisdiction over the care, custody, and supervision of Indigenous offenders to First Nations, transforming the criminal justice system and ensuring that sections 81 and 84 of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act are utilized to their full legislative intent, including adequate resourcing for First Nations and support to resume jurisdiction over justice.

Image result for union of bc indian chiefsWe await your urgent response to the issues identified in this letter, and we ask that you work closely with the First Nations Justice Council, the First Nations Leadership Council, and First Nations leadership broadly to develop and implement a pandemic response plan for Indigenous people currently incarcerated or at risk of becoming involved with the criminal justice system. Anything less threatens to repeat the patterns of violent institutional negligence that has characterized genocide against Indigenous people in Canada since colonization began.

On behalf of the UNION OF BC INDIAN CHIEFS

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip
President

Chief Don Tom
Vice-President

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson
Secretary-Treasurer

CC: Assembly of First Nations
BC First Nations Justice Council
BC Assembly of First Nations
First Nations Summit

The Greed of the Oil Giants Is a Total Betrayal of the Future

The fossil industry could take important measures to mitigate climate change, but devotes itself to the opposite. The real scandal is the companies’ unwillingness to redirect new investments into renewable energy. It is a huge betrayal of the future — where the Murdoch press but, as well, some Swedish Media play along, writes Anders Wijkman.

When historians answer the question in the future which actors or factors were the biggest obstacles to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the 2000s, the candidates are many: the reluctance of accepting supranational decision-making by countries such as the US and China, the reluctance of political leaders such as Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro to cooperate internationally, the attempts of conventional economists such as William Nordhaus to downplay the risks, the disagreement between rich and poor countries about the responsibility for historical emissions or the constant attempts to disrupt the negotiations by oil-producing countries like Saudi Arabia.

However, a special place must be reserved for the big oil, gas and coal companies for the disgraceful role they played and play. First, by obfuscating their own research data that at an early stage showed the risks of increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Then by investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually on lobbying in parliaments around the world, not least the US Congress, to torpedo or delay legislation aimed at limiting emissions.

The real scandal

The real scandal today is the companies’ unwillingness to diversify their operations and redirect new investments in energy production into renewable energy. Instead, companies continue to pump hundreds of billions of dollars into new oil and gas production. It is a huge betrayal of the future.

The coal companies are in a league of their own. The coal should stay in the ground and every newly opened coal mine — as in Australia recently — is a crime against the future. However, coal companies generally differ from oil and gas companies to the extent that their profit margins are small. Many coal companies have also gone bankrupt in recent years and the future of the industry is shaky in many countries.

The oil and gas producing companies, on the other hand, have so far had very good profitability. This means that companies such as BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon Mobil invest tens of billions of dollars each year on new energy extraction. Of this, only an average of just over one percent currently end up in alternatives to oil and gas. In Exxon Mobil’s case, it is even smaller, in fact only 1/5 of this percentage, which is invested in renewable energy (the Carbon Disclosure Project). Instead, the money ends up being used to develop new oil and gas deposits. Still, we know that already the oil and gas fields that are under production in the world contain several times more oil and gas than can be used to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals. Further investments mean that the industry becomes even more firmly embedded in the fossil economy. The result can only be a disaster for the climate or that large parts of the investments become stranded (lost) assets.

The Greed of the Oil Giants Is a Total Betrayal of the Future, Below2C

What happened to “Beyond Petroleum”

But the managers who have succeeded him, among them the Swedish Carl-Henrik Svanberg, have primarily focused on continued extraction of oil and gas.

BP coined the term “Beyond Petroleum” twenty years ago. They then had a forward-thinking chief, Lord John Browne. But the managers who have succeeded him, among them the Swedish Carl-Henrik Svanberg, have primarily focused on continued extraction of oil and gas. I remember a statement from Svanberg a few years ago where he described it as BP would “go back to its roots”. BP did make a statement recently promising zero emissions from the company’s operations by 2050, but how to accomplish this remains yet unclear.

A few companies in the oil industry have taken small steps towards diversification, such as Total, Shell and Equinor, but their efforts outside the fossil market are still modest. However, Equinor — which has changed its name from Statoil to highlight a changed focus in its operations — has still a long way to go. Although the company has made good investments in offshore wind power, the commitment to oil and gas remains dominant.

The company is also a leader in the new oil field, Johan Sverdrup, which was inaugurated in mid-January. The field is said to contain reserves of 2.7 billion barrels of oil and is expected to generate a total revenue of at least $ 100 billion. Equinor’s management said in a statement “that Johan Sverdrup is good for Equinor’s shareholders, for Norway but also for climate emissions”. The latter claim is based on the fact that Equinor has electrified the oil recovery itself. It reduces emissions by a few percent. But the dominant emissions occur when the oil is used. An environmental representative in Norway pointed out: “Equinor’s statement is the same as a tobacco manufacturer that boasts that none of the company’s employees smoke while significantly increasing cigarette sales.”

Lundin Petroleum, a Swedish Oil Company, is also deeply involved in Norwegian waters. The company has recently decided to change its name to Lundin Energy. The motive is to show that the climate issue is taken seriously and that the company intends to invest in other energy sources than fossil energy. By 2030, they want to be climate neutral in their extraction of oil, mainly by adding green electricity to their oil platforms. But as for Equinor, the entirely dominant climate impact comes from the use of the oil.

In parallel, the big banks continue to pump money into various fossil projects. In total, close to $ 2,000 billion has been spent on new oil, gas and coal projects since the Paris Agreement was signed (Fossil fuel finance report card, 2019). JP Morgan Chase is, not surprisingly, at the top of the banks.

However, discussions are ongoing about the role of the financial industry in climate change. A growing number of banks and financial companies have gone out of coal, oil and gas. But still a large majority continue to support fossil companies and thus make the transition to a fossil-free energy system difficult.

One thing is clear

If companies such as BP, Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Equinor, Aramco and others do not continue to invest heavily in new extraction, lending to the fossil extraction would be significantly lower. However, large investments are still being made by the oil-producing states.

To meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, global annual investments in renewable energy would at least need to triple

No one can demand that fossil companies stop selling oil and gas from one day to another. Most of the development in the world would stop. Nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy supply is still fossil fuels. However, given the seriousness of the situation, oil and gas companies need to take rapid steps to diversify their operations and aid the energy conversion. Companies such as BP, Exxon Mobil and Chevron are energy companies and should of course help develop alternative energy sources, just as the electricity companies have been forced to do.

To meet the Paris Agreement’s goals, annual global renewable energy investments would at least need to triple. If the oil and gas companies invested their investment funds in renewables instead of in oil and gas, they could in one go increase investments in solar, wind, geothermal energy and climate-smart bioenergy by close to 50 percent. It would give momentum to an industry that must soar if we are to have a chance to stop the heating below 2 degrees.

One can speculate as to why diversification has not come off. Comments from people in the industry mainly point to three reasons. On the one hand, companies are quite simply speculating that tough political measures will be delayed in most countries and that they can therefore look forward to a growing market many decades to come. Partly it is greed that governs. The profitability of selling oil and gas has been very high, which has led to good returns for shareholders and high salaries for people working in the companies. Profitability in the electricity sector has been significantly lower and thus less attractive. Finally, it is possible that the culture in the companies is not suitable for anything other than oil and gas. If true, these companies could refrain from operating solar and wind energy plants themselves and limit themselves to being part owners.

In addition, parts of the media, such as the Murdoch press and, in Sweden, the leader page in Svenska Dagbladet, have gone along

Another factor that comes into play is, of course, the forces that do their best to play down the importance of climate issues, such as the oil-producing countries and economists with William Nordhaus at the forefront. In addition, parts of the media, such as the Murdoch press and, in Sweden, the editorial page of Svenska Dagbladet, have gone along. The SvD has for many years been giving plenty of scope to Björn Lomborg, who repeatedly claims that sun and wind are still too expensive to invest in — a free pass to the oil and gas companies.

Sooner or later…

Oil and gas companies will be forced to rethink. Concerns about stranded assets are growing in the financial industry and a “tipping point”, when a majority of financial institutions ditches the fossil industry, need not be far away. At the same time, time is short.

The oil and gas companies could make important contributions to the transition, but devote themselves mostly to maintaining the status quo. Responsibility rests heavily on both those who own and those who run them. The situation is not getting any better because, according to an analysis of Influence Map, many of the companies continue to invest big money on political lobbying every year to delay tough measures against emissions. SOURCE

Time to #CancelRent and defer mortgage payments

As incomes rapidly decline for households amid the COVID-19 crisis, calls for rent cancellations have grown across jurisdictions, including here in BC. As a CCPA report published yesterday shows, over 200,000 renter households in BC have less than one month’s savings on hand. The federal and provincial governments have announced packages to support incomes, but these dollars will not begin to reach households until April and May. With the rent due in a week’s time, urgent action is needed now.

In BC, the provincial government has already moved to halt evictions for non-payment of rent in all government-funded housing, and the Premier has stated that “no one will lose their apartment as a result of COVID-19.” It’s critical that any eviction ban ensure that renters unable to pay in this moment of crisis aren’t penalized – and should not merely delay their evictions until the crisis passes. In the interest of public health, other evictions should also be limited, given it is not possible to “stay home” and look for a new home or undertake a move all at the same time (with some exceptions, though no one self-isolating due to potential COVID-19 symptoms or who has the virus should be subject to eviction under any circumstance).

To ensure that everyone is secure in their home and able to have cash on hand for food and essentials, rent for April 1 should be cancelled without penalty for anyone who attests they’re unable to pay. This could be done using a simple on-line form submitted by renters at risk. By forgiving the rent rather than simply delaying payment, this policy would support renters facing an income crunch during this crisis.

This cancellation of rent payments should come alongside a more robust measure for mortgage payment deferrals. Last week the federal government announced that lenders would be allowed to offer deferred payments for mortgages insured by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). However, it is left up to financial institutions to work out details on a case-by-case basis, and does not apply to non-CMHC insured mortgages.

Lenders should instead be required to allow three to six month deferrals on residential mortgages (including for rental properties) and to extend amortization periods so households can reduce their monthly payments. Lenders should also be prohibited from charging fees for deferrals and loan restructuring, and be required to maintain the interest rate from the original loan or their current posted rate, whichever is less. The federal government should also issue guidelines for what constitutes hardship so that determining eligibility for these measures is not left up to individual banks and other financial institutions.

These mortgage deferrals and restructuring options would help ensure that small landlords are reasonably protected, and would make it easier for financially impacted homeowners more generally to avoid defaulting and contributing to a large-scale housing market crash. Such measures could be paired with a property tax deferral option, alongside the BC Hydro deferral already announced. The provincial government should also make funds available to landlords affected by a rent cancellation to be used for maintenance and other critical operating costs, as others have suggested.

If the federal and provincial emergency income supports are not reaching households quickly enough and remain at inadequate levels, rent cancellation will need to be extended to May. In many European countries, workers’ incomes affected by COVID-19 are being replaced at rates of up to 90%, compared to Canada’s Employment Insurance replacement rate of only 55% up to only $54,000 in insurable earnings, which means a maximum benefit of about $2,300 per month — barely enough to cover average rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Vancouver. Benefit rates will be even lower for those who will receive stop-gap federal emergency benefits rather than regular EI.

The combined federal and provincial income support efforts should be scaled up urgently. With adequate income support, households would be able to pay their bills again.

We outlined other important housing security measures in our previous post published last week. Income support targeted specifically to low-wage renters will be needed, and one form this could take is a significant expansion of eligibility for the provincial Rental Assistance Program, which provides cash assistance to low-income renters. To ensure no one falls through the cracks, the needed halt on evictions for non-payment of rent should remain in place on an ongoing basis until the social and economic situation stabilizes.

It is also important to highlight that given the long-running homelessness crisis in this province, emergency housing is needed for those without shelter and who cannot self-isolate. This could include requisitioning empty hotel space to provide housing (including appropriate staffing) for people experiencing homelessness, as is currently occurring in jurisdictions like California. Significant increases to income assistance rates are also urgently needed — these are long overdue, and now is the time to finally raise the rates. This is also important given the possibility of a spike in applications for welfare if temporary EI benefits aren’t extended as the economic crisis unfolds.

At a time of society-wide upheaval and anxiety, it’s important to take the stress of housing insecurity off the table. It cannot be left to the goodwill of landlords and banks to provide relief to British Columbians who are struggling. Rent cancellations present some complications, but we’re in an emergency and action is needed now to ensure that renters are secure in their homes and able to afford groceries in April. The rent is coming due in eight short days. SOURCE

Coronavirus ‘Really Not the Way You Want To Decrease Emissions’

Cheap oil, lower investment in renewables and a post-virus rebound will likely offset the emissions drop, but there are climate lessons in the response to the virus.

credit: Isaac Lawrence/AFP via Getty Images

As the global economy shudders in reaction to the coronavirus, lessons are emerging about what that response can—and cannot—tell us about fighting climate change.

Economists and policy analysts say they are most concerned about how the current financial disruption could harm the efforts of countries, international organizations and companies to reduce emissions. They think any drop in emissions tied to the virus will be short-lived, while the continuing drop in oil prices could encourage more consumption and hurt demand for low- or no-carbon products like electric vehicles.

At the same time, the response to COVID-19 is demonstrating that in the face of a large and imminent threat, it is possible to get people to change their behavior—something climate change activists have been trying to do for decades. Some of those changes—an increase in telecommuting, for example—have climate benefits that could last beyond the current crisis.

“The plus side is, if there’s a sense of social cooperation that emerges from this in response to a threat, that could be a very good sign for communities and leaders to come together,” said Michael Lazarus, U.S. director at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

And yet, emissions concerns are by necessity secondary to managing an escalating public health crisis whose immediacy is in contrast to the way the public often views the march of climate change.

A Model for Long-Term Change?

The closest thing to a positive development from the coronavirus crisis may be how governments have mobilized to get people to change their behavior, such as encouraging the use of hand sanitizer and the avoidance of public events, among many other steps big and small. This is in contrast to the difficulty that environmental advocates have long had in getting people to make changes to consume fewer resources.

Some of the changes in response to coronavirus could have enduring climate benefits. One example is how many employers are now encouraging people to work from home, which cuts emissions from driving to work. As employees and workers get used to this, they are more likely to want to do it more.

“I’d be surprised if there weren’t at least some instances where this marks a sea change,” said David Comerford, a behavioral economist at Stirling University in Scotland.

He is especially optimistic that some good will come from what climate advocates are learning about how the public responds to crisis and what messages work in communicating urgency.

But as is also true with climate change, people with low incomes are the most likely to suffer while the affluent have an easier time dealing with the threat, in this case the virus, said Gernot Wagner, a climate economist at New York University.

“It’s not going to be me dying, it’s going to be the already-poor, already-vulnerable, elderly sick people who will die,” he said.

Lazarus also sees potential for harm if societies see the virus as “foreign” and respond by trying to build social and economic barriers, as opposed to coming together.

Temporary Economic Declines, Long-Term Challenges

One of the greatest hazards for climate policy related to the coronavirus is that governments, international organizations and companies may have fewer resources and less time to focus on other thorny problems.

Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, made this point while talking this week about his office’s new forecast that the world will see the first full-year decline in oil production in more than a decade, a drop that reflects the decrease in demand as coronavirus keeps people from traveling or even going to work.

“The impact of the coronavirus on oil markets may be temporary,” he said on Twitter. “But the longer-term challenges facing producer countries are not going to go away, especially those heavily dependent on oil and gas revenues.”

In those countries, “sustained low prices could make it almost impossible to fund essential areas such as education, health care and public sector employment,” he said.

The IEA report warned that energy companies are likely to struggle to finance projects, which could have a big effect on renewable energy, since solar, wind and other renewable technologies make up an increasing share of such companies’ plans.

Other industries also are apt to run into difficulties paying for their part in the transition to clean energy. For example, the economic disruption caused by the outbreak has probably complicated the airline industry’s plan to establish mandatory carbon offsets by 2027. Planes emptied by the virus have left airlines with little revenue to invest in projects aimed at reducing carbon elsewhere to make up for their flights’ emissions.

The industry is now focused on mere survival. The International Air Transport Association projects that the global revenue losses for passenger airlines could reach up to $113 billion this year, with over $21 billion of that hitting U.S. airlines.

“The turn of events as a result of COVID-19 is almost without precedent,” said Alexandre de Juniac, the trade group’s CEO and director general, in a statement. “In little over two months, the industry’s prospects in much of the world have taken a dramatic turn for the worse. It is unclear how the virus will develop, but … this is a crisis.”

Real Emissions Drop, But With Unexpected Consequences

The evidence that, at least temporarily, the arrival of COVID-19 has cut greenhouse gas emissions—in some cases drastically—is clear. A report published by Carbon Brief found that emissions in China had dropped by at least 25 percent in February compared to the same period in 2019.

But that same report also indicated that the long-term reduction of emissions probably would be much less, and depend on how quickly China’s economy gets back to normal. This would be in line with a long history of emissions falling during economic turmoil and then rebounding to a level that more than offsets the decline.

The drop in emissions could end up being just a blip that contributes to other problems, said Samantha Gross, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. One of those problems is that falling costs of oil and other fossil fuels could discourage investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and could encourage people to use more oil and gas.

“I actually worry about environmentalists getting too happy and worked up about the fact that emissions are going down, because this is really not the way you want to decrease emissions,” she said.

There isn’t much evidence that people are happy about it, but some experts still worry about the message it would send if such a sentiment became common.

“There are lots of things that might be good for the environment but are bad for humanity,” said Comerford.

He added that he doesn’t want a crisis that happens to cut emissions to be confused with an actual strategy for cutting emissions.

“There is low hanging fruit in terms of cuts to emissions that we can easily and very affordably make with really no sacrifice to quality of life,” he said.

SOURCE

Coronavirus pandemic leading to huge drop in air pollution

‘Largest scale experiment ever’ shows what is possible as satellite images reveal marked fall in global nitrogen dioxide levels

Pollution levels in China in 2019, left, and 2020. Photograph: Guardian Visuals / ESA satellite data

The coronavirus pandemic is shutting down industrial activity and temporarily slashing air pollution levels around the world, satellite imagery from the European Space Agency shows.

One expert said the sudden shift represented the “largest scale experiment ever” in terms of the reduction of industrial emissions.

Readings from ESA’s Sentinel-5P satellite show that over the past six weeks, levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2) over cities and industrial clusters in Asia and Europe were markedly lower than in the same period last year.

Nitrogen dioxide is produced from car engines, power plants and other industrial processes and is thought to exacerbate respiratory illnesses such as asthma.

While not a greenhouse gas itself, the pollutant originates from the same activities and industrial sectors that are responsible for a large share of the world’s carbon emissions and that drive global heating.

Paul Monks, professor of air pollution at the University of Leicester, predicted there will be important lessons to learn. “We are now, inadvertently, conducting the largest-scale experiment ever seen,” he said. “Are we looking at what we might see in the future if we can move to a low-carbon economy? Not to denigrate the loss of life, but this might give us some hope from something terrible. To see what can be achieved.”

Monks, the former chair of the UK government’s science advisory committee on air quality, said that a reduction in air pollution could bring some health benefits, though they were unlikely to offset loss of life from the disease.

“It seems entirely probable that a reduction in air pollution will be beneficial to people in susceptible categories, for example some asthma sufferers,” he said. “It could reduce the spread of disease. A high level of air pollution exacerbates viral uptake because it inflames and lowers immunity.” Agriculture could also get a boost because pollution stunts plant growth, he added.

The World Health Organization describes NO2 as “a toxic gas which causes significant inflammation of the airways” at concentrations above 200 micrograms per cubic metre. Pollution particles may also be a vector for pathogens, as well as exacerbating existing health problems. The WHO is now investigating whether airborne pollution particles may be a vector that spreads Covid-19 and makes it more virulent. MORE

Company set to crank out ventilators, awaiting final go-ahead from Ottawa

In rush to avoid nightmare scenario unfolding in Italian hospitals, world scrambles to make breathing machines

In Italy, where the health system has been overwhelmed by a surge of COVID-19 cases, a patient in a biocontainment unit is carried on a stretcher from an ambulance in Rome on March 17. Other countries, including Canada, are rushing to build more medical equipment to respond to the virus. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

A Canadian company says it can ramp up production within days of potential life-saving ventilators, once it gets final instructions from the federal government.

Countries are scrambling to avoid the nightmarish scenario unfolding in Italy, where doctors are grappling with which patients to save because there aren’t enough breathing machines to serve all the critically ill victims gasping for air.

The Toronto-based medical supplies company has a letter of intent from the federal government to purchase machines and says it can drastically scale up production once it receives one critical detail:

How many machines does the government want?

Thornhill Medical says its production plans hinge on the answer to that question — such as what kind of manufacturing partner might be required, and how financing might work.

Workers build a temporary hallway to the COVID-19 testing centre at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto on March 19. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

 

Once that’s settled, production can immediately start, said company president Lesley Gouldie.

“We would be manufacturing this weekend if we knew what the order was,” said Gouldie, whose company’s MOVES SLC machine is like a portable intensive-care unit with a ventilator.

“We can’t initiate scaling until we know what we have to scale to.”

‘We’ll do whatever it takes’

Those details should be released imminently, one federal official said. The federal government has been consulting with the provinces in assessing requirements.

Depending on the size of the order, Gouldie said the company can either retain the property rights and sub-contract production to a manufacturer, or transfer the technology in exchange for payments or royalties.

One thing she’s adamant about is the company can meet the demand.

“We’ll do whatever it takes to rapidly scale up,” she said. “Manufacturing capability is not going to be the limiting factor.”

What’s not clear, yet, is how many of these machines actually Canada needs. One study says Ontario risks running out within weeks.

The federal government estimates there are about 5,000 ventilators in the country; that’s the figure put forward at a news conference Saturday by Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo.

The federal government has expressed an interest in buying these machines, the MOVES SLC, from its Toronto-based manufacturer to use as ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company says it’s ready to ramp up production, but is awaiting specifics from Ottawa. (Thornhill Medical)

He said that depending on the trajectory of the virus Canada might need anywhere from “1,000, to 3,000, or 5,000.”

For the sake of comparison, in one of the hardest-hit countries so far, on Saturday Italy had 2,857 patients reported in intensive care for COVID-19.

‘This is a war. Treat it like a war’

Closer to home, panic is mounting. In New York State, the governor says his state needs 30,000 ventilators and only has 5,000 to 6,000.

The U.S. Army is discussing plans to turn New York City’s empty hotels into intensive-care facilities as cases skyrocket.

“This is a war. Treat it like a war,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told CNN, urging the U.S. government to use wartime measures under the Defense Production Act.

“Say to the manufacturers in this country, ‘I need you to build these pieces of equipment quickly.’ … This is going to be the matter of life and death for people.”

It’s happened before.

During the Second World War, car companies stopped building cars.

Instead, they churned out planes, engines, and cannons. Ford had plants in five U.S. states producing military supplies; Chrysler alone had two-dozen factories building everything from tanks and plane engines to anti-aircraft cannons.

In Canada, factories that usually made bicycles and hockey skates churned out gun parts; a soda-fountain company made tank parts.

Amid the current crisis, auto companies in different countries, from Ferrari, to Ford, to Canadian parts makers, are discussing possible roles in producing medical supplies.

Canada’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo says the country probably has 5,000 ventilators and may need anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Flavio Volpe, head of Canada’s Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said he was inundated with calls last week from members keen on getting involved.

He said 16 companies expressed interest early in the week, when auto-production lines were still running; by the end of the week, with most production shuttered by the pandemic, he said he got 50 more inquiries in a single day.

“I wish we could take every call — I can’t,” said Volpe, who said he first discussed the idea in a conversation last weekend with officials in the Ontario and federal governments.

He said that if auto companies get the engineering specifications for a product, and a list of suppliers, they could, within weeks, be churning out gear on a scale unimaginable for medical-supply companies.

“[The medical industry’s] scale is less than one per cent of our scale,” he said, suggesting that companies could, within weeks, be supplying anything from ventilators to protective gear for doctors, such as masks.

Ottawa company ready to make test kits

The ventilator company, Thornhill, said it’s open to new partnerships: “We’re an innovative company. … We’re more than happy to explore innovative solutions,” Gouldie said.

It’s currently in talks with a manufacturer from another industry — not a car company, but one that has experience producing medical supplies.

She said any manufacturer would need to demonstrate an ability to comply with the strict regulatory requirements of her industry and be up to the ISO 13485 standard that applies to medical devices.

Amid a dire shortage of medical supplies, an Italian Red Cross member watches as a box of products, including respirators and masks donated by a Chinese team of experts, is taken out of a plane at Rome’s Fiumicino airport. (Handout via Reuters)

Her company isn’t the only one awaiting a purchase order from the federal government any day now.

A company identified by the federal government as a potential maker of COVID-19 test kits says it hopes to get production rolling within several weeks.

Paul Lem, the founder of Spartan Bioscience in Ottawa, said it would take one week to produce an experimental version and another week to get the results validated. The company could start mass-production after approval from Health Canada, he said.

His company makes machines the size of a coffee cup that take in single-use cartridges for DNA tests.

He said it can be used to test for COVID-19 but needs two things: financing to scale up and instructions from government.

“[Tell us] how many do you need,” Lem said.

“Then we can get going.” SOURCE

In the midst of converging crises, the Green New Deal is the answer

Image result for c d howe

During the Second World War, under the leadership of none other than “minister of everything” C.D. Howe, this country created 28 new crown corporations to manage every aspect of the war effort.

If you’re feeling a mounting sense of apocalyptic unease as you wash your hands and sing “Happy Birthday” for the eighth time this morning, you are not alone.

It is perfectly possible that before 2020 is half over, we will be in a global recession exacerbated by a pandemic and an oil price crash. And it is all playing out against the backdrop of a climate emergency that is proceeding at terrifying speed whether it is on the front pages or not.

But while stock markets veer between fear and greed, some of us find ourselves ricocheting from fear to hope. (And back again.)

Beyond this week’s initial economic package, it is entirely possible that the Trudeau government will soon have to step up with a massive economic stimulus, perhaps one even bigger than a decade ago.

And while U.S. President Donald Trump seizes this crisis moment to bail out his billionaire friends in unsustainable industries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – preparing a budget and searching for a unifying second-term mission – could and should bail out people and the planet instead.

In fact, the response to this period of converging crises is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to initiate a reset of our economy and society, putting Canada on a path toward zero emissions, and bringing immediate material benefits and enhanced, 21st century universal public services to everyone – prioritizing Indigenous, racialized and working class communities – that is, the people who need them most.

In other words, this is the ideal moment for Canada to launch the decade of the Green New Deal, a sweeping vision launched nationally last spring by more than 150 climate and social justice organizations, building on momentum south of the border from U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise climate movement. Essentially, it recommends an unprecedented public investment in a justice-based transition that creates a vast number of well-paying (preferably unionized) jobs, solves our crises in housing, crumbling infrastructure, health and education, inadequate transit, and deep inequality. This kind of public investment would vastly expand the tax base and stabilize the economy at the same time.

We know this can be done in Canada. During the Second World War, under the leadership of none other than “minister of everything” C.D. Howe, this country created 28 new crown corporations to manage every aspect of the war effort. That’s the level of commitment we need for a rapid shift to a climate-safe and more equal economy.

And we certainly have the resources to do it.

As a Globe and Mail editorial said recently, Canada “can deploy fiscal stimulus worth tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars, if necessary. And it can borrow at the lowest interest rates in human history, which it can lock in for decades.”

In the midst of all these terrifying and converging disasters, this is perhaps the greatest opportunity – to shatter the shackles of austerity thinking and see the potential for government to do big things, like actually lead a democratic and inclusive response to the climate emergency at the speed and scale that science and justice require.

In a crisis (like a pandemic, an economic meltdown, a climate breakdown, or all of the above at once) people across the ideological spectrum want and expect government to ride to the rescue. While it does so, there is a historic opportunity to heal all kinds of wounds across the land.

Imagine, just for one example, if on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government started painting Alberta in publicly-owned solar panels, creating tens of thousands of jobs that paid prevailing energy industry wages, while enforcing the law of polluter pays to spark a reclamation boom cleaning up a century of oil and gas wells and infrastructure.

The job creation per federal dollar would be exponentially higher than the purchase of a white elephant pipeline. And speaking of which, once we’re all hard at work building the future together – it’ll be a lot less painful to wash our hands of the relics of the past. SOURCE

Avi Lewis is a filmmaker and strategic director of The Leap

Coronavirus Is the Perfect Disaster for ‘Disaster Capitalism’

Naomi Klein explains how governments and the global elite will exploit a pandemic.

GETTY IMAGES

The coronavirus is officially a global pandemic that has so far infected 10 times more people than SARS did. Schools, university systems, museums, and theaters across the U.S. are shutting down, and soon, entire cities may be too. Experts warn that some people who suspect they may be sick with the virus, also known as COVID-19, are going about their daily routines, either because their jobs do not provide paid time off because of systemic failures in our privatized health care system.

Most of us aren’t exactly sure what to do or who to listen to. President Donald Trump has contradicted recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and these mixed messages have narrowed our window of time to mitigate harm from the highly contagious virus.

These are the perfect conditions for governments and the global elite to implement political agendas that would otherwise be met with great opposition if we weren’t all so disoriented. This chain of events isn’t unique to the crisis sparked by the coronavirus; it’s the blueprint politicians and governments have been following for decades known as the “shock doctrine,” a term coined by activist and author Naomi Klein in a 2007 book of the same name.

History is a chronicle of “shocks”—the shocks of wars, natural disasters, and economic crises—and their aftermath. This aftermath is characterized by “disaster capitalism,” calculated, free-market “solutions” to crises that exploit and exacerbate existing inequalities.

Klein says we’re already seeing disaster capitalism play out on the national stage: In response to the coronavirus, Trump has proposed a $700 billionstimulus package that would include cuts to payroll taxes (which would devastate Social Security) and provide assistance to industries that will lose business as a result of the pandemic.

“They’re not doing this because they think it’s the most effective way to alleviate suffering during a pandemic—they have these ideas lying aroundthat they now see an opportunity to implement,” Klein said.

VICE spoke to Klein about how the “shock” of coronavirus is giving way to the chain of events she outlined more than a decade ago in The Shock Doctrine.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Let’s start with the basics. What is disaster capitalism? What is its relationship to the “shock doctrine”?

The way I define disaster capitalism is really straightforward: It describes the way private industries spring up to directly profit from large-scale crises. Disaster profiteering and war profiteering isn’t a new concept, but it really deepened under the Bush administration after 9/11, when the administration declared this sort of never-ending security crisis, and simultaneously privatized it and outsourced it—this included the domestic, privatized security state, as well as the [privatized] invasion and occupationof Iraq and Afghanistan.

The “shock doctrine” is the political strategy of using large-scale crises to push through policies that systematically deepen inequality, enrich elites, and undercut everyone else. In moments of crisis, people tend to focus on the daily emergencies of surviving that crisis, whatever it is, and tend to put too much trust in those in power. We take our eyes off the ball a little bit in moments of crisis.

Where does that political strategy come from? How do you trace its history in American politics?

The shock-doctrine strategy was as a response to the original New Deal under FDR. [Economist] Milton Friedman believes everything went wrong in America under the New Deal: As a response to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, a much more activist government emerged in the country, which made it its mission to directly solve the economic crisis of the day by creating government employment and offering direct relief.

If you’re a hard-core free-market economist, you understand that when markets fail it lends itself to progressive change much more organically than it does the kind of deregulatory policies that favor large corporations. So the shock doctrine was developed as a way to prevent crises from giving way to organic moments where progressive policies emerge. Political and economic elites understand that moments of crisis is their chance to push through their wish list of unpopular policies that further polarize wealth in this country and around the world.

Right now we have multiple crises happening: a pandemic, a lack of infrastructure to manage it, and the crashing stock market. Can you outline how each of these components fit into the schema you outline in The Shock Doctrine ?

The shock really is the virus itself. And it has been managed in a way that is maximizing confusion and minimizing protection. I don’t think that’s a conspiracy, that’s just the way the U.S. government and Trump have utterly mismanaged this crisis. Trump has so far treated this not as a public health crisis but as a crisis of perception, and a potential problem for his reelection.

The shock doctrine was developed as a way to prevent crises from giving way to organic moments where progressive policies emerge.

It’s the worst-case scenario, especially combined with the fact that the U.S. doesn’t have a national health care program and its protections for workers are abysmal. This combination of forces has delivered a maximum shock. It’s going to be exploited to bail out industries that are at the heart of most extreme crises that we face, like the climate crisis: the airline industry, the gas and oil industry, the cruise industry—they want to prop all of this up.

How have we seen this play out before?

In The Shock Doctrine I talk about how this happened after Hurricane Katrina. Washington think tanks like the Heritage Foundation met and came up with a wish list of “pro-free market” solutions to Katrina. We can be sure that exactly the same kinds of meetings will happen now— in fact, the person who chaired the Katrina group was Mike Pence. In 2008, you saw this play out in the original [bank] bail out, where countries wrote these blank checks to banks, which eventually added up to many trillions of dollars. But the real cost of that came in the form of economic austerity [later cuts to social services]. So it’s not just about what’s going on right now, but how they’re going to pay for it down the road when the bill for all of this comes due.

Is there anything people can do to mitigate the harm of disaster capitalism we’re already seeing in the response to the coronavirus? Are we in a better or worse position than we were during Hurricane Katrina or the last global recession?

When we’re tested by crisis we either regress and fall apart, or we grow up, and find reserves of strengths and compassion we didn’t know we were capable of. This will be one of those tests. The reason I have some hope that we might choose to evolve is that—unlike in 2008—we have such an actual political alternative that is proposing a different kind of response to the crisis that gets at the root causes behind our vulnerability, and a larger political movement that supports it.

This is what all of the work around the Green New Deal has been about: preparing for a moment like this. We just can’t lose our courage; we have to fight harder than ever before for universal health care, universal child care, paid sick leave—it’s all intimately connected.

If our governments and the global elite are going to exploit this crisis for their own ends, what can people do to take care of each other?

”’I’ll take care of me and my own, we can get the best insurance there is, and if you don’t have good insurance it’s probably your fault, that’s not my problem”: This is what this sort of winners-take-all economy does to our brains. What a moment of crisis like this unveils is our porousness to one another. We’re seeing in real time that we are so much more interconnected to one another than our quite brutal economic system would have us believe.

We might think we’ll be safe if we have good health care, but if the person making our food, or delivering our food, or packing our boxes doesn’t have health care and can’t afford to get tested—let alone stay home from work because they don’t have paid sick leave—we won’t be safe. If we don’t take care of each other, none of us is cared for. We are enmeshed.

We’re seeing in real time that we are so much more interconnected to one another than our quite brutal economic system would have us believe.

Different ways of organizing society light up different parts of ourselves. If you’re in a system you know isn’t taking care of people and isn’t distributing resources in an equitable way, then the hoarding part of you is going to be lit up. So be aware of that and think about how, instead of hoarding and thinking about how you can take care of yourself and your family, you can pivot to sharing with your neighbors and checking in on the people who are most vulnerable. SOURCE

RELATED:

There Are No Private Solutions to a Public Health Crisis

How to self-isolate during the coronavirus crisis

More Canadians are being asked to  self-isolate at home for 2 weeks at a time

Zeena Dotiwalla cleans a light switch at Yogaspace in Toronto on Wednesday. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that people in self-isolation clean frequently contacted surfaces at least once per day. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, more Canadians are being asked to to self-isolate at home — for two weeks at a time — if they are symptomatic, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are returning from an area that’s experiencing an outbreak, or have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the illness.

CBC explains what that means.

Why are people told to self-isolate at home?

The majority of COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been mild and have not required hospitalization, much less acute care treatment, said David Jensen, a spokesperson with Ontario’s Ministry of Health, in an email to CBC News. People who are only mildly ill are asked to isolate at home to ensure hospitals can maintain the capacity to treat and manage more severe cases, if required.

How are authorities ensuring these people aren’t going out into the community? Is it an honour system?

Local public health units regularly check in with people who have confirmed cases to ensure they are abiding by guidelines for self-isolation, Jensen said. In addition, medical officers of health have statutory powers they can use to enforce self-isolation if they believe people are not following quarantine orders.

If someone is found to be non-compliant with any of the conditions for self-isolation at home, they could face significant fines and penalties under the Quarantine Act, a spokesperson with the federal Public Health Agency of Canada said.

Can they leave the premises?

People in self-isolation are asked to stay at home, unless absolutely necessary, such as to seek medical care. They should arrange to have groceries and supplies dropped off at the door.

(CBC)

Can relatives, housemates stay in the home of someone in self-isolation?

Yes, however, health officials advise that any person in self-isolation should avoid contact with others — keeping a distance of at least two meters — and wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth. Officials also advise staying in separate rooms and using separate bathrooms if possible.

How about pets?

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there is currently no evidence to suggest that any animal native to Canada (wild, livestock or pets) harbours the virus that causes COVID-19, and animals in Canada don’t pose a risk of infecting people with the virus.

Still, the agency recommends that, until more is known about human to animal transmission, patients infected with COVID-19 who also have a pet or other animal should avoid close contact with them.

More people are being asked to to self-isolate at home if they are symptomatic, have returned from an outbreak area, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or come in contact with someone who has. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

What about the use of household items?

People in self-isolation are asked to avoid sharing household items, including dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding and other objects, PHAC says.

Any special guidelines for cleaning?

PHAC says that at least once daily, individuals in self-isolation should clean and disinfect surfaces they touch often, such as toilets, bedside tables, doorknobs, light switches, phones and television remotes. Regular household disinfectants are fine.

Contaminated items that cannot be cleaned should be placed in a lined container and disposed of with other household waste. SOURCE