What do we do when our home is on fire?

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Australian governments have denied or downplayed the existence and risks of human-caused climate disruption. There, coal is king. In our outdated economic systems, short-term jobs and financial indicators mean more to politicians than keeping the planet habitable for human life!

The worst bushfires in Australia’s history have consumed more than 11 million hectares, killing dozens of people and more than a billion animals, displacing many more, and destroying thousands of homes. While the fires rage on, smoke chokes the air and coral reefs bleach and die, Australia’s leaders are touting development of yet another huge coal mine, the Adani Carmichael mega-mine in Queensland, designed to produce 2.3 billion tonnes over 60 years of mostly low-quality, high-ash coal.

Australia’s fires cover an area 15 times larger than those in the Amazon, which are also bad. More than 30 years ago, my wife Tara and I, along with others, worked with the Kayapo in Brazil to help protect their traditional territory in the rainforest from development. Together, we convinced the World Bank to pull funding for a massive dam system, which put the project on hold.

As Brazil’s economy improved and World Bank money was no longer needed, the project went ahead under a new name. Flooding is just one threat to this precious forest. Clearing and burning to make way for agriculture and industrial development are also fuelling rapid destruction.

Some call the Amazon the “lungs of the world,” because the rainforest breathes in carbon and exhales oxygen. Canada is home to what some call the “northern lungs” — the boreal forest.

Some call the Amazon the “lungs of the world,” because the rainforest breathes in carbon and exhales oxygen. Canada is home to what some call the “northern lungs” — the boreal forest stretching from Yukon to Newfoundland and Labrador, covering 55 per cent of Canada’s land mass. The amount of oxygen forests produce is difficult to calculate and often exaggerated, but there’s no doubt forests are important for human survival.

The boreal is also under threat from rapid development and global heating. As with recent massive wildfires elsewhere, climate change is increasing the boreal fire season and fuelling intense burning over larger areas than ever — regardless of whether fires are set by lightning, arsonists or sparks from machinery or a train wheel. Warmer winters have also facilitated the spread of tree-destroying insects like mountain pine beetles that cold winters once kept in check.

Intact forests produce oxygen and provide many other services beneficial to humans. They sequester carbon, which helps regulate global temperatures. They prevent runoff, slides and flooding. They maintain and filter water. They provide food and other necessities for people, and habitat for plants and animals.

In the midst of its fires, Australia has been hit by extreme weather events, including terrifying massive dust storms, battering hail and flood-producing torrential rains. Smoke from the fires is also a potent greenhouse gas. So, as a heating planet causes more forests to burn, the fires release even more carbon into the atmosphere, creating feedback loops that accelerate warming.

Our economic systems still run on endless growth and consumerism, creating unconscionable waste and devastation.

What will it take for politicians and others to listen? As Greta Thunberg warns, our home is on fire. It will get worse if we fail to change our ways, quickly. But politicians and industry keep expanding fossil fuel development, trying to cash in before markets fall in the face of better alternatives and climate chaos. Our economic systems still run on endless growth and consumerism, creating unconscionable waste and devastation. We judge how well the economy is performing in part by how quickly we are tearing up the world.

It makes no sense.

Why is Australia going ahead with a massive coal mine? Why is Canada considering approving a 24,000-hectare open-pit oilsands mine, the Teck Frontier project in Northern Alberta? Why is the U.S. reversing environmental protections and facilitating fossil fuel expansion? Haven’t they heard we’re facing a global crisis the likes of which we’ve never experienced? Or do they ju st not care? Are money and power really more important to them than the health and well-being of citizens and the future of our children and grandchildren?

We’re not being held back by a lack of solutions — there are plenty existing and more being developed. We’re hostage to a lack of political will and imagination. Wake up humanity! All that money and power won’t mean anything if we destroy our only home.

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Why the Climate Movement’s Next Big Target Is Wall Street

Photo: Getty

Climate activists are taking on a new pipeline: The one that funnels money from Wall Street into planetary destruction.

A coalition of climate, environmental, youth, and indigenous organizations unveiled Stop the Money Pipeline, a campaign to “pressure banks, insurance companies and asset managers to stop financing fossil fuels and deforestation and start respecting human rights and Indigenous sovereignty,” late last week.

Banks, asset managers, and insurance companies may seem like less obvious targets than going directly after, say, oil and gas companies or the Trump administration. But Wall Street plays an essential role in the fossil fuel industry’s expansion. Staunching the flow of money could be an effective way to prevent more oil, gas, and coal from being dug up, which is exactly what has to happen (and then some) to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Though many banking institutions have branded themselves as green, the world’s top 33 largest banks collectively provided $1.9 trillion in financing for coal, oil, and gas companies since countries put forth the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015.

“There are only a few major companies like Exxon Mobil, who can self-finance a project and put up all the money themselves,” Jamie Henn, 350.org co-founder, told Earther.

And even oil majors like Exxon rely on capital from investment firms like BlackRock and insurance from companies like Liberty Mutual (that have also both adopted green branding), said Henn. “If we can knock out this pillar of financing for the fossil fuel industry, we can take out the entire industry itself,” he said.

There’s precedent for successful public pressure campaigns going after money that finances fossil fuel exploitation. The divestment movement led by 350.org has seen colleges and universities, cities, religious institutions, and pension funds to withdraw their investments from fossil fuel corporations. The climate divestment movement itself is modeled after the successful efforts to divest from apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

“When we launched that campaign, we were actually saying, ‘we’re not really looking to make a financial impact,’ we want to make a political impact with this work,” he said. “What surprised us is how much of a financial impact it actually made.”

In late 2018, the movement hit a milestone with 1,000 groups agreeing to divest from fossil fuels. The number has since risen to nearly 1,160 groups managing $12 trillion (though not all of it is in fossil fuels).

Henn said he realized the financial potential of the movement in 2016, when Peabody, the world’s biggest coal company, announced it was going bankrupt and listed divestment as one of the reasons why. A 2018 Goldman Sachs report shows it’s not just Peabody, noting that the “divestment movement has been a key driver of the coal sector’s 60% de-rating over the past five years.”

There are other recent successes beyond divestment as well. Due at least in part to public pressure, Goldman Sachs became the first major U.S. bank to stop funding oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge last month. An in July, Chubb announced it will be the first U.S. insurer to phase out its coal investments and insurance policies within the next three years. The four largest European insurance firms no longer cover coal power-related projects.

“So what we’re doing now is sort of taking this to the next level and going to the banks and insurance [companies] and the asset managers themselves,” said Henn, “to demand that they take action… against all fossil fuels.”

That action can’t come soon enough. The United Nations’ (UN) recent Production Gap Report shows that within a decade, planned fossil fuel production will “more than double what’s allowable to avoid 1.5 degrees Celsius of global warming.” This year’s UN climate talks in November will also focus specifically on the role of finance in furthering the climate crisis. By that time, the campaign hopes to see firm commitments from banks and insurers to not finance projects that worsen climate change, and to instead fund renewable energy and reforestation.

The organizations running the campaign—which launched at the last Fire Drill Friday protest hosted by Jane Fonda in Washington, DC—have identified three initial primary targets. One, JPMorgan Chase, is the top global financer of fossil fuels. It has poured $196 billion in financing to fossil fuel companies since 2016, roughly 10 percent of all fossil fuel financing from major global banks. And Lee Raymond, Exxon’s former CEO, is on their board. Despite such a seemingly large investment in fossil fuels, shifting away from financing projects wouldn’t kill Chase. Janet Redman, Greenpeace’s climate campaign director, told Earther that fossil fuels roughly seven percent of Chase’s business.

“So while that is an incredible amount of money and it means a lot to the planet,” she said, “some of these institutions can make small shifts in their portfolio—really less than 10 percent effectiveness—and accomplish a lot for the planet.”

Another, Liberty Mutual, is a top insurer of and investor in energy mega-projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline. The company invests over $8.9 billion in fossil fuel companies and utilities. They’ve also withdrawn coverage from and increased the costs of insurance for longtime customers in areas at risk of climate change impacts, such as wildfire-affected areas in California.

And then there’s BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm with nearly $7 trillion in assets worldwide. It’s also the largest investor in commodities linked to fossil fuels and deforestation. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink frequently calls on corporations to take on a “social purpose.” But his company is the world’s top investor in public oil, gas and coal companies, and is among the world’s top shareholders in companies that deforest the Amazon to produce and trade soy, beef, palm oil, pulp and paper, rubber and timber.

Stopping these investments would not only be good for the climate, but also for indigenous communities and other vulnerable people worldwide. The Liberty Mutual-backed Trans Mountain pipeline, for instance is routed through First Nations territories. And deforestation in the Amazon, such as that undertaken by BlackRock’s clients, has caused a human rights emergency for indigenous people. Those human rights violations are not only ethically unconscionable, but they could also leave investors open to legal action down the road.

Last Thursday, BlackRock announced that it’s joining the Climate Action 100+, a group of investors that manage assets worth over $35 trillion worth, which pressures the world’s biggest polluters to show how they will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

In the coming months, the Stop the Money Pipeline campaign will demand each of these targets divest from coal, oil, gas, and deforestation, while pressuring the federal government to strictly regulate the energy industry. Next Thursday, the campaign will be targeting Wells Fargo in Washington, DC for their fossil fuel finance and human rights violations, and on February 13, they’ll hold a nationwide day of action targeting college campuses and state pension funds urging divestment from fossil fuels.

They might not have to wait long to see results. After Blackrock’s shift last week, the firm’s CEO said in his annual letter that the world is “on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance,” and announced that the company will no longer invest in thermal coal.

But the firm and others have a lot of work left to do, so activists will be reminding them of that in the coming weeks. SOURCE
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The Silly, Scary Truth about Alberta’s New Ministry of Truth

Ridiculed for their lies and bumbling, Jason Kenney’s propagandists soldier on.

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One critic called Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s energy ‘war room’ an ‘expensive joke.’ That made his war room brain trust upset. Photo by Greg Fulmes, the Canadian Press.

Jason Kenney is learning that it’s not easy to set up a state-run propaganda agency.

Right off the bat, the Alberta premier’s “war room” swore, as every propaganda outfit does, that it would “reject what is false and promote what is true.”

The agency, officially named the Canadian Energy Centre and launched earlier this month with an annual budget of $30 million, picked one of its first battles with the Medicine Hat News.

That newspaper’s crime was to publish an opinion piece by Jeremy Appel that lambasted the agency’s motives: “Its entire premise is based on the notion that anyone who opposes oilsands expansion is a liar with ulterior motives.”

Appel called the war room “an expensive joke” and “a grave threat to our right to dissent.”

And he criticized Kenney for arguing, just like the extremist Ezra Levant, that the province needed a propaganda agency because Canadian oil is more ethical than Saudi or Russian oil.

“Are Albertans supposed to pat themselves on the back because they don’t jail and execute dissidents, but merely dedicate public resources to their vilification and harassment without a shred of transparency?”

Appel’s column proved something that George Orwell once wrote: that “if liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

And so, the CEC immediately swung into action. Grady Semmens, a CEC agent and former Trans Canada PR guy, sent the paper a note saying it wanted to respond to the “comments and inaccuracies” in Appel’s column. (For the record, Semmens describes himself as “a purpose-driven public affairs professional.”)

The subsequent “guest column” makes no mention of any “inaccuracies” but swears the propaganda outfit will be “informative, positive and educational.”

But how can a group staffed largely by conservative partisans or hydrocarbon fundamentalists be anything but ideological, political and false?

It starts at the top. Tom Olsen, CEC’s managing director, used to serve as the press secretary for Tory premier Ed Stelmach and was a failed United Conservative Party candidate in the last election. (Count Olsen as at least one Albertan put back to work by Kenney.)

Pumping a deflated ‘enemy’

Olsen and his indoctrinators, employing the Orwellian technique of inventing an enemy, pretend to be fighting a war against a foreign-funded, anti-oilsands campaign that largely ended four years ago. As Olsen blared, his agency “is a direct response to the domestic and foreign-funded campaigns against Canada’s oil and gas industry that have divided Canadians and devastated the Alberta economy as energy production in the United States and elsewhere has ramped up.”

Apparently Olsen has no knowledge of the 2014 oil price collapse, or other well-documented factors hurting his province’s petro-prospects.

And he apparently also forgot that years ago, four oilsands executives sat down with five environmental groups involved in the anti-tarsands campaign led by Tzeporah Berman. In backrooms, they all agreed to a half-assed plan to limit emissions as opposed to production, which, rightly or wrongly, largely derailed the campaign.

The NDP government later joined in the climate policy agreement, leading to a splashy announcement in November 2015.

Still, no good propagandist discards a deflated enemy when falsely pumping one up better serves his purpose. Fighting a battle that has largely ended is surely good work if you can get it. MORE

 

UN says Canada’s plan to rescue Wood Buffalo National Park not enough

Massive northern park at risk of landing on ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list


Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas. (Parks Canada)

The status of Canada’s largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly after a United Nations body expressed grave doubts about a federal plan to rescue it.

“Considerably more effort will be needed to reverse the negative trends at a time when climate change combined with upstream industrial developments and resource extraction are intensifying,” says a draft decision on Wood Buffalo National Park from UNESCO, which manages the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Further deterioration, it says, “could eventually lead to the inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger.”

Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and breeding grounds for millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways.

With almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways, it is the world’s only breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes and home to the world’s largest herd of free-ranging wood buffalo. First Nations depend on the area.

But it has been deteriorating for decades. In 2014, the Mikisew Cree asked UNESCO to examine the park and see if it still merited designation as a World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO report prompted Ottawa to commission a 561-page study that concluded 15 out of 17 measures of ecological health were declining. The effects — everything from low water flows to curtailed Indigenous use — stem largely from changes to area rivers caused by climate change, dams in British Columbia and industry in Alberta.

Canada proposed solutions such as artificially induced spring floods and other water flows. Ottawa also promised more careful environmental reviews of nearby development and better consultation with local Indigenous people.

…But Canada failed to answer concerns about B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam, UNESCO says. It also points out that ongoing oilsands development upstream from the park is of “serious concern.” MORE

Robyn Allan: An open letter to Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney


Left, file photo of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley by Alex Tétreault. Centre, photo of Alberta oilsands by Andrew S. Wright. Right, photo of United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney by Alex Tétreault

Dear Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney,

Whichever one of you is entrusted with the opportunity to lead Alberta into the future after the provincial election, here is what you need to know to navigate the most challenging issue in your province’s history — the era of stranded assets in the oilsands.

The Alberta oilsands sector is a mature sector, not a growth sector. It has entered the phase in its lifecycle where corporate boardroom discussions have transitioned from the inevitability of rapid oilsands expansion to how best to sustain current production. In this phase of the oilsands lifecycle, Trans Mountain’s expansion is obsolete.

No amount of market intervention or increased oil industry subsidization can alter the course these captains of industry are on. However, that will not stop them from angling for taxpayer handouts by pretending another wave of oilsands investment is just beyond the horizon. The more taxpayer money they can convince all levels of government to transfer to their corporate treasuries, the easier their transition off fossil fuels becomes.

The idle promise of further oilsands investment is the likely motivation behind the Trudeau government quietly negotiating such a sweet toll rate deal for Trans Mountain’s shippers last fall. Despite Finance Minister Morneau’s promise to Canadians that it would not happen, Trans Mountain has agreed to provide oil producers who use the existing line with a $2 billion toll subsidy over three years mounting to a $3.4 billion toll subsidy over five years. . MORE

IPCC authors urge NEB to consider climate impacts of Trans Mountain pipeline expansion


Scientists Kirsten Zickfeld and Mark Jaccard say oilsands expansion is inconsistent with Canada’s climate goals. Photo by Michael Ruffolo

A pair of experts on global warming have thrown their support behind a new legal motion urging the National Energy Board to consider all climate-related impacts from the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline and tanker expansion in its latest review of the project.

The motion was filed on Monday by environmental group Stand.earth. The two experts have contributed to major international scientific assessment reports about climate change. Both of them warned that Canada needs to do its part by stopping the growth of emissions from the country’s oilsands deposits of northern Alberta. Oilsands companies would be able to expand well beyond current production levels if the project to ship more oil gets the green light.