Why Scientists Should Shape Environmental Policy

The case of fracking in Pennsylvania shows that if experts and fossil fuel industry leaders can cooperate, innovation is possible.

Signs opposing fracking

Signs opposing fracking are posted in the front of the yard of an Evans City, Pennsylvania, home on Feb. 23, 2012. KEITH SRAKOCIC/AP

Solar power, wind energy, smart grids, and energy storage often command the current discourse on energy innovation. Yet none of these technologies has transformed the U.S. energy landscape to the degree of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” which is unlocking previously inaccessible crude oil and natural gas from underground reservoirs. Thanks to fracking, the 40-­year decline in U.S. domestic crude oil production has reversed, and the United States has recently become a net exporter of natural gas for the first time.

For many, this record-setting pace of oil and gas production is no cause for celebration, because it reflects a continued reliance on fossil fuels. Nevertheless, fracking has made oil and gas plentiful and cheap, making these energy resources hard to resist. Like it or not, we may depend on oil and gas—and the technologies that produce them—for the foreseeable future.

Fracking begins after a gas or oil well is drilled and involves injecting a mixture of water, sand, and chemical additives into rock. The high pressure causes the rock to fracture, providing conduits for the oil and gas to flow into the nearby wellbore. Public perceptions of fracking are shaped by controversies between an industry that has downplayed the risks of fracking and the citizens alleging that it has polluted air, contaminated drinking water, and scarred landscapes.

People within communities hosting fracking were scared, looking to experts to make sense of this issue. While experts were easy to find, definitive answers were in short supply. The deployment of fracking had raced ahead of the science needed to illuminate its potential impacts. As fracking activities evolve, uncertainties remain. MORE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace River Frack-Up Bombshell

Part 1 of a report on how fracking poses risks to BC Hydro’s Peace River dams

Read Part 2 of the report

The WAC Bennett dam impounds the world’s seventh-largest reservoir. In 2012 a BC Hydro employee speculated a fracking operation may have caused a sudden change in the reservoir’s water levels. Photo: Jayce Hawkins.

BC Hydro has known for well over a decade that its Peace Canyon dam is built on weak, unstable rock and that an earthquake triggered by a nearby natural gas industry fracking or disposal well operation could cause the dam to fail.

Yet for years, knowledge of the dam’s compromised foundation was not shared widely within the Crown corporation. It was even kept secret from members of a joint federal/provincial panel that reviewed the Site C dam, now under construction 70 kilometres downstream of Peace Canyon in the Montney Basin—one of the most active natural gas fracking zones in British Columbia.

The disturbing revelation is among many contained in hundreds of emails, letters, memos and meeting notes released by the publicly-owned hydro utility in response to a freedom-of-information (FOI) request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC office.

The documents show that BC Hydro officials knew from the moment the Peace Canyon dam was built in the 1970s that it had “foundational problems,” and that if an earthquake damaged the structure’s vital drainage systems it could be a race to stabilize the dam before it failed.

The documents also show that BC Hydro’s concerns about threats to the dam were discussed “at the highest level” within the provincial government ten years ago, but that unidentified provincial Cabinet ministers at that time rejected taking any action.

The documents have been augmented with a raft of emails supplied by a former BC Hydro construction manager, who oversaw $350 million in retrofits at the Peace Canyon and WAC Bennett dams in 2007, and who is speaking out publicly for the first time about his concerns.

A compromised foundation

Built in the late 1970s, the Peace Canyon dam lies a short distance downriver from the massive, earth-filled WAC Bennett dam, which impounds Williston Lake—the seventh-largest hydro reservoir on earth by water volume. The FOI documents show that the dam was built on top of layers of sedimentary rock, including shale—a rock known to be difficult to work with when big engineering projects are involved.

“A number of weaker bedding planes were identified underneath the dam during construction. Some of these exist directly below the dam within the foundation, and shear tests on bedrock core samples indicated shear resistance that was significantly lower than originally anticipated during design,” reads one internal report on Peace Canyon prepared by BC Hydro in 2017. “The dam is marginally stable under full uplift considerations, which does not meet modern design practice.”

The discovery was a bombshell. Since the shale rock underlying the dam was more susceptible to shearing or breaking than previously thought, it was vital to prevent any industrial activities nearby that could possibly trigger earthquakes.

But that knowledge was not widely shared within BC Hydro itself, even when disturbing tremors started to be felt at the dam in 2007—more than 30 years after problems were first detected. MORE

RELATED:

Peace Canyon dam at risk of failure from fracking-induced earthquakes, documents reveal

Most of us are blissfully unaware of how much fracking takes place in B.C.

Methane is 70 to 80% more powerful than CO2. Methane traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide while in the atmosphere

Process releases methane and polluting and carcinogenic chemicals into the atmosphere.

Many of us living in urban centres in southern B.C. are blissfully unaware of how much fracking is taking place in the northeastern part of the province. DAVID MCNEW / GETTY IMAGES FILES

It’s a long weekend and we’re returning from the Gulf Islands on the new B.C. ferry, the Salish Eagle. Along the inside corridor on the main floor, we come face to face with a large mural created by FortisBC extolling the virtues of the natural gas that powers the boat we are on.

One panel assures the reader that CO2 emissions will be reduced by 15 per cent to 25 per cent annually by this new “clean” fuel, and another panel promises a “cleaner, brighter future” through the use of natural gas.

What the ad doesn’t say is that the Salish Eagle’s fuel is fracked gas and that over 85 per cent of our province’s natural gas now comes from fracking, mainly in northeastern B.C.

Fracking is an industrial process used to extract underground natural gas deposits from shale rock. The technique involves drilling a shaft vertically for up to four kilometres into the rock, and then horizontally for up to three more kilometres.

Massive amounts of water, combined with sand and chemicals are injected under high pressure into the well, inducing micro-cracking and fissuring of the rock to release the natural gas known as methane.

The ad fails to inform the reader that the fracking process results in a considerable amount of methane escaping into the atmosphere.

Once released, methane traps 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide while in the atmosphere. And so far, the technology has not been able to prevent these leaks. Because of this, scientists are concluding that fracking natural gas is actually worse for global warming than oil or coal.

The province recently introduced its new targets for greenhouse gas emissions: a reduction of 40 per cent below 2007 levels by 2030, 60 per cent by 2040, and 80 per cent by 2050. Yet unless an immediate moratorium is declared on new fracking developments, B.C. will fail to meet its own targets.

Then there is the effects of fracking on water use. Each fracking procedure uses more than 10 million litres (36 Olympic-sized swimming pools) of clean water. In parts of the U.S., drinking water wells have dried up due to withdrawals for fracking.

The ad also fails to mention that the chemicals added to frack fluid to help maximize methane extraction have the potential to cause cancer and disrupt hormonal activity in both humans and animals, through the release of polluting and carcinogenic chemicals into the atmosphere and water.

Fracking also produces large amounts of contaminated wastewater containing both the carcinogenic and hormone-disrupting chemicals initially added to the frack fluid, but also radioactive chemicals and heavy metals released from deep underground. One study showed radium levels (a chemical known to cause cancer) in fracked water 200 times greater than background levels. Some of this contaminated water will eventually leak into the water table.

Higher rates of leukemia have been found among people aged five to 24 living near fracking operations. More babies born with congenital heart defects and higher rates of pre-term birth have been found in people who live close to fracking sites. Research has shown an increase in hospital visits among asthmatics living close to fracking sites.

For all these reasons, a recently published article in the peer-reviewed New England Journal of Medicine called for policy makers to reject the false promise of natural gas.

Fracking also causes earthquakes. 62 per cent of significant earthquakes in western Canada between 2010 and 2015 were induced by fracking and 31 per cent by the disposal of fracking wastewater into the ground under high pressure.

In fact, many countries, including England, France, and Germany, have banned fracking, and at least three Canadian provinces have declared various levels of moratoria on fracking because of its known harms.

Many of us living in urban centres in southern B.C. are blissfully unaware of how much fracking is taking place in the northeastern part of the province, where some rural and Aboriginal community members have described themselves as living in a “sacrifice zone.”

Natural gas is not a clean fuel and the misleading advertising on B.C. Ferries should be removed immediately. SOURCE

 

This So-Called Bridge Fuel ‘Leads to Hell’: Blowout at ExxonMobil Fracking Site Among Nation’s Worst-Ever Methane Leaks

2018 fracked gas well blowout in rural ohio

Last year, it took ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy 20 days to get a blowout at a fracked natural gas well in Belmont County, Ohio under control. (Photo: Ohio State Highway Patrol/screenshot)

The revelation Monday that a blowout last year at an Ohio natural gas well owned by an ExxonMobil subsidiary was one of the country’s largest-ever leaks of the potent greenhouse gas methane provoked impassioned calls for a rapid, just transition to 100% renewable energy nationwide.

“The next time some paid liar in the fossil fuel industry insists fracked gas is helping solve the climate crisis, remind them that a single Exxon fracking site ‘leaked more methane in 20 days than all but three European nations emit over an entire year,'” tweeted David Sirota, a speechwriter and adviser for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

Sirota quoted The Washington Post‘s report on the findings of a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of American and Dutch scientists studied satellite data and found that the Feb. 15, 2018 blowout at a Belmont County well—which was hydraulically fractured or fracked before the incident—resulted in an “extreme” leakage of methane.

The team of 15 scientists explained that “from these data, we derive a methane emission rate of 120 ± 32 metric tons per hour. This hourly emission rate is twice that of the widely reported Aliso Canyon event in California in 2015.” The incident in California, which lasted four months, is the largest known accidental methane leak in the United States. Methane is 84–87 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

“The Ohio episode triggered about 100 residents within a one-mile radius to evacuate their homes while workers scrambled to plug the well,” The New York Times reported Monday. “At the time, the Exxon subsidiary, XTO Energy, said it could not immediately determine how much gas had leaked.”

Critics of continuing fossil fuel production pointed to new findings about the blowout and its consequences as evidence of the dangers of using natural gas as a “bridge” in a national—and global—transition to 100% clean energy.

Author and activist Naomi Klein tweeted a link to the “terrifying” Times report and highlighted commentary from a scientist at the U.S.-based nonprofit advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“Right now, you have one-off reports, but we have no estimate globally of how frequently these things happen,” Steven Hamburg, EDF’s chief scientist and a co-author of the new study told the Times. “Is this a once a year kind of event? Once a week? Once a day? Knowing that will make a big difference in trying to fully understand what the aggregate emissions are from oil and gas.”

Bill McKibben, co-founder of the global environmental advocacy group 350.org—who also shared the Times report on Twitter—concluded that “natural gas [is] clearly a bridge fuel, it’s just that the bridge leads to hell.”

Morgan Harper, a progressive Democrat currently campaigning to represent the Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District—which includes the state capital, Columbus—also tweeted a short response to reporting on the study: “Green. New. Deal.”

ExxonMobil, for its part, did not indicate any intention to reconsider fracking or natural gas production in response to the new findings. Julie L. King, a spokesperson for the fossil fuel giant, told the Post by email that “we deeply regret this incident occurred and are committed to identifying and managing risks associated with our activities to prevent recurrence.”

“We are eager to learn more about their study,” King added. “ExxonMobil is working with government laboratories, universities, NGOs, and other industry participants to identify the most cost-effective and best-performing technology, including satellites, that can be adopted by all producers to detect, repair, and accurately measure methane.”  SOURCE

Some hard truths (and a dirty little secret) about Canadian energy

TMX will help, but Alberta and Canada need a lot more


Houses, bottom, line the side of a hill in Burnaby, the terminus of the TMX, as the downtown Vancouver skyline is seen in the distance. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

This is an opinion piece from Brian Jean, who was MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin in northern Alberta from 2015-2018. He led Alberta’s Opposition as Wildrose Party leader for two years and ran to lead the UCP when his party merged with the PCs in 2017 but lost to Jason Kenney. Before that, he represented the Athabasca and Fort McMurray regions as a Conservative MP for a decade.

Alberta’s energy sector is the goose that lays golden eggs for Canada.

It has attracted millions of young, hardworking people to Alberta. It is the reason why Alberta contributes more financially to Canada than any other sub-national region in any other country contributes to its central government.

Quebec is sustained by equalization dollars that come from Alberta. If Ottawa has tax revenue to distribute as equalization, it is because hardworking Albertans and the energy industry are paying those taxes.

Ottawa benefits from all the wealth that Alberta’s energy creates, so much so that a two-month cratering of Alberta’s oil prices in the last quarter of 2018 slashed national GDP growth to zero.

That massive financial benefit is now at risk because of short-sighted decisions by politicians.

Alberta has oil that the world wants to buy, that Canadians want to buy, but Canadian politicians don’t want to make the reasonable accommodations that would let us sell it.

Recently politicians have been focused on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX). That is good, but we need more than that. TMX isn’t enough to make Albertans stop worrying about being taken for granted by Canada and it isn’t enough to ensure Alberta’s and Canada’s long-term prosperity.

Alberta produces just under four million barrels of oil per day (bpd). We consume about 25 per cent of that in Canada and we sell the rest to Trump’s America — at a discount.

America is our only foreign customer. They are also our top competitor.

Because of fracking discoveries, the U.S. is now the world’s top producer of oil. They don’t really need our oil and they need less every day. That is part of the reason why our oil sells at a discount that Alberta’s former NDP government concluded was costing the Canadian economy $84 million a day.

TMX will hardly change that.


An oil tanker anchors at the terminus to the Trans Mountain pipeline in Burnaby, B.C. TMX’s shallow port can’t accommodate modern supertankers. (Chris Corday/CBC)

If TMX is finally built it will send a further 590,000 bpd to Vancouver. That helps, but only a little.

It’s a dirty little secret that most of the new TMX oil will be sold to U.S. west coast refineries. Very little of it will go to China, Japan, Korea or India, despite the fact that all of them want it. At most TMX will sell a few hundred thousand barrels a day to Asia.

You see, Vancouver’s shallow port can’t accommodate modern supertankers.

Most oil gets shipped in two million-plus barrel supertankers, but Vancouver can only handle 800 thousand barrel ships, and those can only be three-quarters filled before they bottom out.

The cost advantages of transporting Alberta oil in efficient supertankers will never happen via Vancouver. And that means TMX alone won’t lead to a growing Alberta energy industry.

If Alberta’s energy industry isn’t growing, it will never again fill the 30 per cent of downtown Calgary that is currently empty. It’s that simple and that bleak.

Canada needs a growing energy industry in Alberta. To be successful we need to sell more than two million barrels a day to a customer that isn’t the Americans. That’s Asia or, better yet, Canada.

What Alberta needs is a deep-water export pipeline to Asia or the Energy East pipeline to eastern Canada. Either would lead to a booming Alberta economy, which could sustain the Canada we all know.

That is what Alberta would have, if we were the only decider on this file — if just economics went into making this decision.

It’s time our politicians were honest with Albertans and Canadians.

TMX is a start, but it isn’t enough.

We need to work on a solution that gets Alberta a customer, other than the Americans, for two million barrels a day of oil.

That customer should be the rest of Canada. SOURCE

 

Singh walks fine line on Trans Mountain pipeline and possible Liberal coalition

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, right, and his wife Gurkiran Kaur, left, cast their ballets at an advanced polling station in his Burnaby South riding during a campaign stop in Burnaby, B.C., on Sunday, October 13, 2019.

SURREY, B.C.— NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tried to strike a precarious balance Sunday between his opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline and the mounting possibility of a coalition with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

Singh is drawing a firm line: he said he will do whatever it takes — including a possible coalition with the Liberals — to keep the Conservatives from forming a government.

But he walked a finer line when pressed Sunday on whether, if the NDP did find itself holding the balance of power after Oct. 21, the Trans Mountain pipeline project would scuttle any co-operation with Trudeau and his MPs.

“I am firmly opposed to the pipeline. I’ve been opposed to it. I will continue to fight against it and it’s absolutely one of my priorities,” Singh told a crowd of supporters in Surrey B.C.

“I won’t negotiate a future government right now, but I will tell people what my priorities are and absolutely my priority is to fight that pipeline.”

Singh offered a first glimpse of the possibility of leaving the door open to working with the Liberals — in spite of his strong stance against the pipeline — following the French debate earlier this week. Since the Liberals had already purchased the pipeline, he said, he would “work on ensuring that we are as responsible as possible with moving forward with an asset that I would not have bought.”

Singh is also walking a political tightrope when it comes to where he currently stands on liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in B.C.

A single protester disrupted the beginning of his rally Sunday, shouting obscenities at the NDP leader and voicing his opposition to the $40 billion LNG project in northern British Columbia.

The project will see LNG Canada export natural gas obtained by fracking. It has the support of the provincial NDP government in B.C.

In January, Singh voiced support for the project. But several months later, not long after the NDP suffered a byelection defeat at the hands of the Greens in the riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, he came out against fracking — a position he reiterated Sunday.

Asked for his current position on the project, Singh sidestepped the question, saying only that he supports the B.C. government’s plans to reduce emissions as the “most ambitious climate action plan in North America.” MORE

Klein pushes for Green New Deal in the face of climate crisis

Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press files</p><p>Naomi Klein (centre) launched the Leap Manifesto in Toronto in 2015.</p>
Naomi Klein (centre) launched the Leap Manifesto in Toronto in 2015. Darren Calabrese / The Canadian Press files

There are few global or international challenges that have brought our species together in solidarity. One can think to D-Day or the Apollo moon landing as examples of western countries using, in the former case, our collective capacity to push back totalitarian hate, and in the latter, defying what we knew was possible in terms of space exploration.

But there has never been a time in human history, which is not very long, where we have stared collectively into the mirror of our own existence.

For the past six decades, we have known that we have been causing catastrophic damage to our home. If you dispute the history of our destruction, Sept. 27 of this year marked the 57th anniversary of the release of Rachel Carson’s environmental science book, Silent Spring. (It should be mandatory reading for all educators.)

Sept. 27 of this year also marked the largest student demonstration in human history, with millions of youth leaving their classrooms to fight for their future and wake the rest of us up. It is this existential struggle that has compelled Naomi Klein, Canadian journalist, activist, and progressive, to release her latest book, On Fire: The Burning Case for a New Green Deal.

The author of No Logo and This Changes Everything, among others, was also a critical player in the development of the Leap Manifesto and the Green New Deal, supported by none other than U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and championed by U.S. congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

In On Fire, Klein is inspired by the new voice of moral courage on our planet, Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg, and the millions of youth turned activists who should be enjoying this time of adolescence but, owing to our greed and neglect, are forced to fight for the very thing that sustains life: planet Earth.

According to Klein, “learning has become a radicalizing act,” whereby in spite of adults, our children are participating in civil disobedience because “they are the first for whom climate disruption on a planetary scale is not a future threat, but a live reality.” They no longer have the idle pleasure of succumbing to what Aristotle calls akrasia, the human tendency to act against our better judgment.

On Fire provides a series of Klein’s essays written over the past decade, which not only chronicle the monumental and catastrophic canaries in the coal mine (the 2010 BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, the rise of fracking, the burning of the boreal forest, etc.), but also make the case for the need of a new understanding of how we live together. Of how we treat and share resources. Of how we become stewards of the Earth so that everyone has the means for a decent life.

And much of this work began in 2015, as Klein and other leaders began to develop the Leap Manifesto. Only four years ago, Canadians and the world were presented with a plan towards sustainability, equity and stability that was scoffed at by the likes of Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau and even Thomas Mulcair. Fast forward to 2019, and we’re still debating who will champion which pipeline.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press</p><p>People rally near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of a climate rally, one of many held worldwide on Friday, Sept. 27.</p>
People rally near Parliament Hill in Ottawa as part of a climate rally, one of many held worldwide on Friday, Sept. 27.   Justin Tang / The Canadian PressAnd we wonder why our children are frustrated and afraid. “They understand that they are fighting for the fundamental right to live full lives,” Klein writes — lives that have been stolen from them.

Following the Leap Manifesto, in 2019 the Green New Deal arrived on Capitol Hill and has provided the basis for a global conversation about a positive pathway forward. Inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, Klein helped develop a framework that checks unbridled capitalism, addresses social inequity and fully realizes the planetary emergency that stares us in the face.

The Green New Deal calls for a fundamental shift in how we operate. It calls for us, Klein argues, to “swerve off our perilous trajectory” through “sweeping industrial and infrastructure overhaul.”

It calls for us to stop denying the future of our kids and to become their allies as they lead the way to a positive, inclusive and thriving future.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files</p><p>The global climate strike, held in cities in dozens of countries on Sept. 27, saw millions of youth leave their classrooms in one of the largest worldwide demonstrations in history.</p>
The global climate strike, held in cities in dozens of countries on Sept. 27, saw millions of youth leave their classrooms in one of the largest worldwide demonstrations in history.   Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files 

SOURCERELATED:

The Sanders Climate Plan Can Work. Warren’s Can’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE

 

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

Image result for polly higgins

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

Image result for jason kenney

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.


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