Ecocide Law places Canadian politicians in jeopardy

“I began to realise that rights in isolation are not enough. If you have rights, there are corresponding duties and obligations – it’s like two sides of the coin. And what gives enforcement to your rights are the responsibilities that are put in place in criminal law.”— Polly Higgins

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Polly Higgins, Earth’s lawyer, focused on making Ecocide the fifth crime against peace under the jurisdiction of  the International Criminal Court by 2020. Her untimely death has energized her followers to realize this goal.

Polly’s Ecocide act gives primacy of jurisdiction over national governments’ law. It also removes the defence of intent. Whether the intent of an action is to avoid ecocide is irrelevant.  The test is whether the principal actor knew or should have known that their actions would result in Ecocide.

The Ecocide Act focuses on bringing those with principal responsibility for acts of Ecocide, be they corporate directors, politicians, financiers, insurers or individuals, to justice for the destruction of our Earth. 

Several Canadian politicians could find themselves charged under this law.

Here are some possible future headlines: 

The International Criminal Court  charges Justin Trudeau with Ecocide

Image result for justin trudeau The Alberta tar sands and Ecocide are virtually synonymous. Using public money, Justin Trudeau has heavily subsidized  tar sands producers, ignoring the IPCC’s call to reduce climate-destroying emissions; he has encouraged the rapid  exploitation and expansion of Canada’s largest sacrifice zone; he has allowed the development of vast, toxic tailings ponds, ignoring their environmental legacy and threat to humanity and future generations; he has used public resources to buy a pipeline to triple tar sands bitumen transportation to offshore markets.

Trudeau’s defense,  that he was always protecting Canadian jobs, would be dismissed as irrelevant.

The International Criminal Court  charges Andrew Scheer with Ecocide

Image result for andrew scheer

Andrew Scheer is vulnerable to charges because he argues that Trudeau’s efforts to develop and exploit the tar sands are not happening fast enough. As a cheerleader for tar sands development as the lynchpin of the Canadian economy, Scheer would find himself vulnerable.

The International Criminal Court  charges Jason Kenney  with Ecocide

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Jason Kenney’s boosterism of the Alberta tar sands puts him in legal jeopardy. His oil and gas subsidies, his removal of environmental safeguards, and the support for fracked natural gas with its huge environmental footprint and  its serious contamination of water, all can be cited as evidence of his willingness to prioritize Alberta’s economy over his duty to protect the public’s right to a healthy environment. 

The International Criminal Court  charges John Horgan with Ecocide

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Allowing construction to continue on the Site C Dam and the flooding of rich farmland to provide cheap electricity to carbon intensive natural gas fracking operations cannot reconciled with Horgan’s duty to protect the environment.  John Horgan has offered subsidies and tax breaks to B.C.’s single largest carbon polluter, LNG Canada.  LNG development is notoriously carbon intensive. The LNG Canada project would emit 8.6 megatonnes of carbon per year in 2030, rising to 9.6 megatonnes in 2050. Fracking is associated with massive water use (the average frack uses between five million and 100 million litres of water), radioactive waste, earthquakes, dangerous air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Health impacts were removed from the purview of the scientific panel tasked with reviewing fracking.  His support for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline development on Wet’suwet’en territory continues to ignore First Nations’ rights and their opposition.


Declare yourself an Earth Protector on the website here.

British Columbia’s dirty natural gas secret


B.C. Premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in 2018. File Photo by Andrew Meade

When I told people I was heading to northeastern British Columbia to check out fracking sites, the most common response was: “We do that here?”

Few southerners have any idea what goes on in the Peace region, and even fewer will ever see it for themselves. For all the hype about liquefied natural gas (LNG) the last few years, not many of us seem to know where it all comes from.

One thing I can tell you is if fracking was going on in Vancouver or Toronto, people would’ve put a stop to it ages ago. After visiting local communities near Dawson Creek, B.C., it’s hard to believe their story has not been told.

Flying over the countryside is the only way to fully grasp the scale. Fracking infrastructure blankets the region from the Alberta border to the Rocky Mountains. Gas plants, compressor stations, well pads, flare stacks, pipelines, wastewater ponds — it just goes on and on and on. I was horrified at just how much farmland and wilderness have been lost to fracking infrastructure.

Folks on the ground told me stories of their lives turned upside-down. I’ve had my share of bad neighbours before, but these fracking companies take the cake. Constant industrial noise from machinery, bright orange flames above flare stacks lighting up the horizon, the smell of poisonous gas prompting abrupt evacuations — and everywhere residents are afraid to speak out.

Long-term effects are even more worrisome. Little research has been done on the cumulative health impacts of fracking in the region, but doctors report bizarre incidences of rare cancers and scarring of the lungs with no clear cause. One community health researcher found evidence of benzene contamination in people. Benzene, a known carcinogen, was found to be 3.5 times higher in pregnant women who lived close to fracking sites and six times higher if those women were Indigenous.

OPINION: Three LNG projects in Squamish and Kitimat would require over 13000 new fracking wells over the next 30 years between them. But we know the only path to limiting global warming to safe levels is zero-carbon renewable energy, not fracked gas

Earlier this spring, drought conditions linked to warming temperatures forced the BC Oil and Gas Commission to suspend water withdrawals for fracking companies in the northeast. These operations use an astonishing 550,000 water trucks worth of the dwindling resource each year. Much of that water eventually ends up deep underground, leaving local wetlands and rivers running dry and the land parched.

While the industry is already suffering from climate change, it continues to make the problem worse. Methane leaks from fracking operations are the key contributor to an alarming spike in levels of the highly potent greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. And all it takes is one look at the mammoth flare stacks dotting the horizon in the Peace region to see for yourself the damage fracking does to the climate. MORE

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Another Setback in Landmark Fracking Case as Lawyers Pull Out

Jessica Ernst’s 12-year legal battle over water contamination no nearer resolution.

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‘What I have learned is that Canada’s legal system is a farce,’ says Jessica Ernst. Photo by Kim Silfving.

Jessica Ernst has spent 12 years and $400,000 pursuing a lawsuit against the Alberta fracking industry and its regulator.

Now her Ontario lawyer has let go most of his staff and given up the case.

“I was shocked and felt terribly betrayed,” said Ernst. “The legal system doesn’t want ordinary people in it. They don’t want citizens who will not gag and settle out of court for money so corporations and government can continue their abuse.”

In 2007, Ernst, then an oil patch consultant with her own thriving business, sued the Alberta government, Alberta’s energy regulator and Encana. She alleged her well water had been contaminated by Encana’s fracking and government agencies had failed to investigate the problems.

For more than a decade the case has been bogged down by legal wrangling, legal posturing and constant delays. Three different judges have been involved.

The process included a two-year detour to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that Ernst could not sue the regulator because it is given immunity by provincial legislation. The lawsuits against the provincial government and Encana remain before the courts.

And still no evidence has been heard on the actual merits of the case.

Ernst was represented by high-profile lawyer Murray Klippenstein. He told The Tyee in an email that “major changes in the political climate of the legal profession in Ontario” made it “no longer feasible for me to continue my law firm. That was heartbreaking to me, for many reasons.”

Klippenstein is fighting against a recently adopted Law Society of Ontario statement of principles that obliges law firms to “promote equality, diversity and inclusion” and perform annual “inclusion self-assessments.”

Lawyers “will increasingly be judged more on the basis of ideology, skin colour and sex chromosomes than by their competence, skills, effort and professional contributions” under the rule, he argued.

However, advocates for the new rules say criticism from Klippenstein and others showed how badly they are needed.

Legal scholar Joshua Sealy-Harrington argued that the “forceful opposition” showed the insufficient awareness of systemic discrimination in Canadian legal practice, which has been detailed time and time and time and timeagain.

Klippenstein also offered another reason for quitting the case, saying in an email to The Tyee that he “had increasing concerns about Ms. Ernst’s views about the viability of her own lawsuit, in particular because of Ms. Ernst’s highly and increasingly critical views of the legal system, and of the lawyers that were a part of that system, to the point where I thought it was simply no longer viable for us to represent her going forward.”

Ernst said she fully explained her critical views to Klippenstein in 2007 as she vetted potential lawyers. Those views have never changed, she added.

“Murray warned me in 2007 that I would need to spend a million dollars and give up 10 to 12 years of my life, to maybe win a few thousand dollars,” said Ernst.

She said Klippenstein told her that lawsuits like hers were usually settled with a payment and a non-disclosure agreement that silences the person who had sued “because our legal system is set up to make that happen.”

Ernst said she had always been clear that she would not accept a non-disclosure agreement. The issue of contaminated water goes beyond one household or community and the public needs to be aware, she said. MORE

So much plastic is being made that “recycling has no impact”

overflowing trash
Public Domain MaxPixel

A Canadian scientist wants us to rethink our approach to plastic and challenge the colonial system that produces it.

Recycling has been called a Band-Aid solution, but Dr. Max Liboiron, director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR) in St. John’s, Newfoundland, had a far more poetic description when she said, “Recycling is like a Band-Aid on gangrene.”

Liboiron, who studies microplastics in waterways and food webs, is the subject of a 13-minute film called ‘Guts,’ created by Taylor Hess and Noah Hutton and published by the Atlantic (embedded below). She runs a laboratory that identifies itself as feminist and anti-colonial, which may sound odd in a scientific setting. Liboiron explains in the film:

“Every time you decide what question to ask or not ask others, which counting style you use, which statistics you use, how you frame things, where you publish them, who you work with, where you get funding from… all of that is political. Reproducing the status quo is deeply political because the status quo is crappy.”

The lab is concerned with preserving certain Indigenous traditions, such as smudging and praying over the disposal of dissected fish intestines following research. It implements protocols such as not wearing earbuds while working on a carcass, as this shows disrespect and lack of connection to the animal.

Liboiron is also committed to promoting citizen science. She has built two devices that trawl for microplastics, constructed from everyday materials. One costs $12, the other $500. These stand in contrast to the standard collection device, which costs $3,500. This makes it impossibly expensive for the average person to sample their own water, which Liboiron believes everyone has the right to do.

She doesn’t mince her words when it comes to recycling and its lack of efficacy:

“The only real mode of attack is to deal with the heavy decrease in the production of plastics, as opposed to dealing with them after they’ve already been created. Your consumer behaviours do not matter, not on the scale of the problem. On the scale of personal ethics, yes. Recycling has skyrocketed [with] no impact on the scale of plastic production whatsoever. Really it’s the cessation of production that will make the big-scale changes.”

As someone who advocates for personal plastic reduction, there’s a lot to take away from this statement. To the naysayers who argue there’s no point trying, the personal ethics response is powerful: We have to do these things so that we feel we are making a difference and to position ourselves to be able to challenge authority and the status quo without being a hypocrite. Does it actually help? Probably not much, if we’re being honest, but it can galvanize the broader societal change required to spur political decisions that can turn off the plastic tap eventually.

Liboiron views single-use plastic as a function of colonialism, the product of a system of domination that assumes access to land, both in terms of resource extraction and a product’s eventual disposal. She wrote in an article for Teen Vogue‘s Plastic Planet series,

“[The plastics industry] assumes that household waste will be picked up and taken to landfills or recycling plants that allow plastic disposables to go ‘away.’ Without this infrastructure and access to land, Indigenous land, there is no disposability.”

Usually this land belongs to developing nations or remote communities, which are then criticized by wealthier ones for mismanaging their waste, despite much of it being shipped there from those wealthier countries. Suggestions such as building more incinerators are made, despite the harmful environmental impact these solutions would have.

It’s clear that recycling isn’t going to solve this plastic crisis, and rethinking the system that produces it is really our only choice. Scientists like Liboiron force us to think outside the box, and it’s refreshing.

MORE

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Indigenous leaders warn of protests, halting developments over shale gas exemption

‘It is our job to ensure the protection of lands and waters for our future generations’: Chief Ross Perley


Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Roger Augustine says ‘the blueprint’ for government to consult Indigenous groups is there. (Radio-Canada)

Top Indigenous leaders are warning that the Higgs government has made “a serious mistake” on shale gas that may reignite protests like those seen in the Rexton area in 2013.

They say the province’s duty to consult Indigenous people is clearly defined, and the government should have known how to proceed as it tries to restart the industry in one part of the province.

“It’s not as if this is all new,” said Roger Augustine, the regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. “The blueprint is there.”

“There’s a lot of case law,” said Chief George Ginnish of Natoaganeg First Nation. “There are actual court cases. … If he needs clarity, we’ll certainly provide clarity if that’s what he needs.”

‘Reckless voice’

Augustine said the Progressive Conservative government’s decision to lift the moratorium on fracking in the Sussex area risks alarming members of First Nations communities.

“When a reckless voice speaks out, be it the premier or the prime minister, they should realize what could happen, what it causes in communities,” he said. “Once we’ve got outrage out there, and we’ve got roadblocks, we’ve got cars burned.”

He was referring to anti-shale gas protests near Elsipogtog First Nation in 2013 that saw violent confrontations between protestors and police. MORE

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No Pipelines in a Climate Emergency

This is a climate emergency. It’s time to act like it.

From June 9-18, people from coast-to-coast-to-coast are taking action to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline and tanker project. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Cabinet are expected to release their decision on whether they’ll approve the controversial project by June 18.

The Trans Mountain project could add 13 to 15 megatonnes of carbon emissions to the atmosphere, which would be like adding almost 3.8 million cars on the road. This will make it impossible for us to meet our climate targets, which are already far from the scale of emissions cuts that are needed.

At the same time, TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) continues to push its “Coastal GasLink” (CGL) fracked gas pipeline.

As the Unist’ot’en Camp writes, “On January 7, 2019, the world watched in shock and horror as the unarmed Indigenous Wet’suwet’en were illegally forced at gunpoint to concede a checkpoint at the entrance to their unceded territories… The international community responded with a massive show of support and solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en protecting their land, with nearly 100 simultaneous demonstrations”.

Council chapters, supporters, and allies took action. It’s time to do so again.

The Unist’ot’en Camp is counting on supporters to mobilize in a big way for the next step in their legal battle. They write that “On the week of June 10, the BC Supreme Court in Prince George will hear Coastal GasLink’s petition for an interlocutory injunction. If they are successful, the interim injunction will be made functionally permanent, allowing CGL to continue with pipeline construction on Unist’ot’en territory without the consent of hereditary chiefs.”

Take Action HERE

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It’s Time to Stop Calling Natural Gas a ‘Bridge Fuel’ to a Safe Climate, Says New Report

Eliminating climate emissions from fracking , the threat of earthquakes, the poisoning of water, the threat to British Columbia ocean species resulting from shipping, all point to banning fracking to help restore the earth.

natural gas flare

Natural gas, marketed for years as a “bridge fuel” to cleaner energy sources, cannot be part of any climate solution, according to a new report from Oil Change International.

While its authors outline a range of arguments, the report, Burning the Gas “Bridge Fuel” Myth: Why Gas is Not Clean, Cheap, or Necessary, highlights this simple reason: There is no room for new fossil fuel development — natural gas included — within the Paris Agreement goals. Therefore, plans to transition to a natural gas-based system are incompatible with international climate goals.

We simply have no more time to debate what’s already been settled. We must move swiftly to a fully renewable energy economy and leave all fossil fuels, including gas, behind,” said Lorne Stockman, report author and Senior Research Analyst for Oil Change International. “Despite desperate attempts by the oil and gas industry to persuade policymakers that their products have a future in a climate-safe world, a rational look at the data clearly shows otherwise.”

While this fact alone should be enough to counter the industry’s attempt to sell natural gas — which is mostly the potent greenhouse gas methane — as a “clean” fuel, there are plenty of other reasons to move on from all fossil fuels, including natural gas.

Renewables Plus Storage Are Already Economical — and Getting Cheaper

In 2013 when natural gas was being touted as a bridge fuel, the oil and gas industry could point to it as a cheaper alternative for producing electricity than coal. At the time, renewable energy sources and battery storage simply weren’t cost-competitive with natural gas or coal.

That was a different time. The low cost of renewable energy has helped end the future of the coal industry and is now poised to do the same to natural gas. The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” was based on the idea that the world needed a reliable and economical energy source to cover the transition until renewables plus storage were a viable alternative.

That time is now. MORE

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Clean power, right in the heart of fracking country

“Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Don Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year.” 


The Bear Mountain wind project in BC. Photo by Don Pettit

Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

“Everything was rolling along nicely. We could have had factories producing wind blades, and we were on the verge of launching a major wind industry with thousands of jobs in B.C.. But just as it started to get going they dropped it.”

“Wind prospectors were coming into the region from all over the world. We wanted to tap into that and try to make at least one of these wind facilities at least partially locally owned — which we did. And I think we set a very high standard for community-supported wind development.”

Their ground-breaking work led to PEC’s inaugural green energy project, the Bear Mountain Wind Park, being fully commissioned in 2009, even as fracking activity was peaking in the Peace. B.C.’s first large-scale wind park at 102 megawatts, it stands a few kilometres south of Dawson Creek and continues to power the South Peace region.

And then, in 2010, things inexplicably went south.

Along with other early adopters of clean energy across the country, Pettit has helped lay the groundwork for an industry that now attracts tens of billions of investment dollars each year. A report issued last week by Clean Energy Canada, entitled Missing the Bigger Picture, calculates that the renewable energy sector employed about 300,000 workers in Canada in 2017 and has significantly outcompeted the rest of the economy in growth.

Yet Pettit has noted intrusive, disturbing changes to those rural lands in the decades since he first arrived in Dawson Creek.

“Since then it’s been a steady stream of industrialization… but the biggest shift imaginable has been the arrival of the fracked gas industry. There’s flares blasting away, and they stink, and surveillance cameras with lots of ‘No Trespassing’ signs. Some of my favourite spots are essentially destroyed.”

The potential health benefits of a transition to renewable appear similarly impressive. A 2016 Pembina Institute analysis estimated that by phasing out coal-fired power entirely by 2030, 1,008 premature deaths, 871 ER visits and $5 billion worth of negative health outcomes would be avoided between 2015 and 2035. And unlike the air and water contaminants emitted by coal and natural-gas plants that sicken local populations and warm the planet, Pettit enthuses that solar energy has “no moving parts and no pollution.” in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

“Alberta has a program called community capacity building. It’s about communities wanting to replace some of the power that they’re using with solar, but they can also make them bigger than they need and put extra power into the grid and get paid for it.”

One significant benefit is a locked-in energy price so communities can build business plans. No such program exists in B.C..

When asked what the provincial government could do to promote its spread, he answers without hesitation. Instead of spending billions on Site C to power the fracking industry, which he says would mostly benefit big corporations in the short term, it could offer small, targeted incentives.  MORE

Children and young people just staged the world’s largest strike to save our future

Children and young people have issued an urgent call for adults to join them on a general strike on 20 September.


Featured image via Perth School Strike/Flickr

On 24 May, over a million children around the world marched out of school to demand their voices are heard over the growing climate chaos that we all face. Under the banner of #ClimateStrike and #SchoolStrike4Climate, these young people are a powerful force.  

“Join us!”

Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg has inspired children around the world. She’s been on strike, leaving school every Friday, since August 2018, to “urge leaders to do more to tackle climate change”. The movement has soared globally, and the 24 March strike was the biggest yet. Young people around the world marched out of school to share their rage and demand that governments and leaders take urgent action.

As Thunberg noted, young people left school in at least “1623 places” in “119 countries around the world”:

Children and young people have also issued an urgent call for adults to join them on a general strike on 20 September. Well-known activists and academics including Naomi Klein, Margaret Atwood, and Noam Chomsky have now backed this call.

“But this also has to go beyond education. We need to halt climate time-bombs like fracking, the new deep coal mine in Cumbria and the third runway at Heathrow. And importantly we need strong action from all parties to boost renewable energy, create green jobs and address the vast inequalities in our society.”

MORE

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GETTING THE LAW IN ORDER

 

The article below is the last one Polly contributed to before her death on Easter Sunday.  She left peacefully, in the company of her devoted husband Ian and close friends, with a mischievous smile on her face.

Oliver Tickell meets barrister and activist Polly Higgins.

Stop ecocide: change the law
Polly Higgins departed this physical dimension on the afternoon of Easter Sunday, at the end of an extraordinary week that saw her life’s work begin to emerge into the awareness of thousands

Polly Higgins, barrister turned environmental campaigner, is a woman with a mission, and one thing she can’t be accused of is not thinking big enough. Her aim is simple: to create a new international crime of ecocide – the mass destruction of ecosystems, air, water and climate – mirroring the existing international law against genocide, the mass destruction of a people.

But why exactly do we need an ecocide law? After all, we already have a host of international environmental laws and treaties, like the Paris Agreement on climate change, or the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). “All these treaties are effectively civil law among states,” explains Higgins. “If one state has a dispute with another over a breach of treaty obligations, it has to go to court and seek justice at its own expense. There is no one to enforce the law, the penalties are often feeble, and no individual can be held to account as the proceedings are purely between states.

“Take the case of fracking. In 2017, I took a road trip through North Dakota and northern Montana to see the fracked fields and communities. It was like driving into hell. Huge tracts of land are now broken up with nodding donkeys [a kind of pump], flares, pipelines, roads, trailer parks… The atmosphere is acrid with the toxic chemicals and combustion products. You can taste it in your mouth. Flaring was going on day and night. It was truly horrific. Now, those fractured communities may have some scope for civil litigation against the fracking companies. But they cannot stop the activity itself. Going to law is very expensive, if there’s a payout it is always too little, too late, and the companies may have gone bust before they ever pay. And all the time the business carries on as usual.

“So civil litigation is not fit for purpose for environmental destruction. This is what is known as ‘missing law’ – law that is obviously needed but is not there. And where you have missing law you get injustice. In the first RBS meeting after the UK government bailed the bank out, there was a press conference and the CEO was asked, ‘Why are you financing the exploitation of the Athabasca tar sands?’ And he just laughed and said, ‘It’s not a crime!’ That’s what we have to change. And we have to go for ‘superior responsibility’ – holding the senior officials, CEOs, heads of state, ministers, directors to account where there has been a reckless disregard of climate and Nature, or even deliberate misinformation. We have to go one step above civil law and make fracking a crime!” MORE

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‘Her Work Will Live On’: Climate Movement Mourns Loss of Ecocide Campaigner Polly Higgins