Forged in Fire: California’s Lessons for a Green New Deal

FILE - In this Nov. 8, 2018 file photo, flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif. A federal hazard tree-removal program will remove destroyed trees from last year's deadly Camp Fire that remain on private property and could fall on public roads and facilities. But the Chico Enterprise-Record reports that the Federal Emergency Management Agency program will not take down trees that could fall on homes. Some arborists have estimated there are half a million to a million burned trees remaining from the fire that wiped out 14,000 homes and killed 85 last November. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

Flames climb trees as the Camp Fire tears through Paradise, Calif., on Nov. 8, 2018. Photo: Noah Berger/AP

WE WERE JUST TAKING PICTURES. Of the ash, stray bricks, and weeds. Of twisted metal and charred patio furniture. Of the pine trees still standing on the edge of the lots, their towering trunks now charcoal black. Of the lonely white brick fireplace in the middle of it all, the only surviving structure, metal pokers hanging expectantly by the grate.

“Get the hell off my property!”

The words came bellowing from a burly man who had just pulled up to the pile of ash that once was his home in Paradise, California. As he shouted a litany of complaints, it became clear that his rage wasn’t only reserved for us trespassers — and there have been plenty who have gone to Paradise to gaze at the eerie emptiness where a thriving community once stood, before it was decimated by California’s deadliest fire one year ago.

The target was myriad forces that had conspired to twist the knife, again and again, on his already wrenching property loss — from the insurance company that wouldn’t pay up, to the county that wouldn’t let him clean up, to the state that wanted his (now contaminated) well to be sealed up. His rage was also directed at the absence of decent temporary housing for fire victims like him, not to mention the electric utility that had started the blaze and was still evading responsibility.

When the complaints petered out, I approached the man to introduce myself and apologize for our intrusion. But as I got closer, I felt his volatility: I have been in many disaster-struck communities and know how quickly the gale-force of emotion these events churn up can direct itself at the closest available target. We wished him luck and left.

The encounter was a reminder of the kind of stress that is in the air in the parts of California recently scorched by fire, as well as in the communities that have welcomed thousands of newly homeless neighbors to towns now bursting at the seams. The intersecting hardships experienced by so many in the region also explain why, days before the one-year anniversary of the deadly Camp Fire that burned down Paradise and killed 86 people, local politicians in neighboring Chico unveiled a plan calling for the small city to adopt its own Green New Deal.

Like its national inspiration, the Chico Green New Deal framework marries rapid decarbonization targets with calls for more affordable housing; a safe and sustainable food system; investments in “clean, 21st century” public transit; green jobs creation, including projects earmarked for the poorest residents; and much more.

Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy.

“Your city council has heard the call of its community that has resounded locally and across the nation,” said Chico Vice Mayor Alex Brown when the plan was announced. “We are choosing to walk the walk of this movement and to take the leadership being demanded of us.” In an interview, Brown told me that the Camp Fire’s impact on both Paradise and Chico was a glimpse of the future unless action is taken to both radically lower emissions and build “communities that are more resilient to these shifts.” Brown is well aware that a small city like hers isn’t going to make much of a dent in global emissions. But, she said, “We can demonstrate what a Green New Deal looks like at the local level.

The Chico plan is one of many similar local initiatives that have sprung up in the year since the Sunrise Movement occupied the office of then-prospective House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with young demonstrators demanding that the Democratic Party embrace a sweeping Green New Deal to meet the twin crises of climate disruption and deepening inequality. Since then, as the Green New Deal proposal has picked up momentum in the Democratic primaries, several states and big cities have unveiled their own frameworks, including Maine and Seattle, where city council recently passed a resolution that included the city’s most ambitious climate justice targets to date. It also pledged to create an oversight board to hold the city to its commitments, a body that will be made up of representatives from communities directly impacted by racial, economic, and environmental injustice, as well as climate experts and representatives from trade unions and green groups.

And yet the contribution now coming from humble Chico — a scrappy northern California college town with a population of approximately 100,000 — may be the most politically significant. Because the Chico Green New Deal is based directly on this region’s hard-won experience of living through the 2018 inferno; it was forged, quite literally, in fire.

Ever since the Green New Deal landed on the political map, liberals have attacked it for its supposedly impractical scope and ambition. Fighting poverty, racism, and homelessness are worthy goals, we have been told — but what do they have to do with lowering greenhouse gas emissions? Surely a carbon-centric approach — like a simple tax or cap-and-trade and some narrow regulations on polluters — would be more likely to succeed. And besides, connecting greenhouse-gas reductions with building a fairer society just confirms Republican beliefs that climate change is a vast left-wing plot: Better to focus exclusively on pollution and worry about the rest down the road. Conservative Chico city council members have gone on the offensive against the Green New Deal with precisely this kind of attack.

PARADISE, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 21: An aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire October 21, 2019 in Paradise, California. It has been one year since the the Camp Fire ripped through the town of Paradise, California charring over 150,000 acres, killed 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 homes and businesses. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

An aerial view of a destroyed neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., on Oct. 21, 2019, one year after the Camp Fire. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yet Chico’s lived experience over the past year is a devastating rebuke to this line of criticism. As the community that housed the vast majority of people displaced by the Camp Fire, Chico shows that there is no way to cope with climate breakdown without a simultaneous shift to a very different kind of economy, one that is willing to make major nonmarket investments in housing, transit, health (including mental health), water, electricity, and more. MORE

David Suzuki: Can caribou and industry coexist?

The economy-versus-environment debate is wrong-headed in elevating a changeable human construct to the same level or above the natural systems on which our health and well-being depend. And in many cases, it would be more accurate to characterize it as “environment versus corporate interests”. Although those interests often align with economic benefits and jobs, sometimes they just mean bigger profits for company CEOs and shareholders at the expense of the common good.

When “economy” is regarded as more than just profit-taking, it can be compatible with environmental protection. With caribou conservation, there can be room for both.

Caribou-protection measures are based on research and evidence, and even so, the 65 percent disturbance threshold only gives herds a 60 percent chance of persistence. Boreal caribou are threatened with extinction from coast to coast to coast, their populations continuing to decline since the federal Species at Risk Act was introduced in 2002.

Caribou are an “umbrella’ species. When populations are healthy, so are many other animal and plant species and the forests they share. Healthy forests provide services such as filtering water and sequestering carbon, which means protecting caribou and their habitat can safeguard water supplies and help reduce climate-altering carbon buildup in the atmosphere.

Room for Both, a new study by the David Suzuki Foundation, Alberta Wilderness Association, and Ontario Nature, demonstrates that caribou conservation and industrial-resource activity need not be mutually exclusive. It examines ways for caribou and industrial activity to coexist, and it concludes that effective habitat restoration can create economic opportunities and help advance reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples.

Report cover

The report synthesizes research from three studies on boreal caribou in British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. It calls for more science-based discourse, better analytic models that take into account caribou conservation values to optimize “least cost” solutions, and recognition of the potential employment value of forest restoration. Past decisions often focused solely on the economic benefits of timber and oil and gas extraction. MORE

Fields of Dreams

THE MICROSCOPE IN TANNIS AND DEREK AXTEN’S FARM OFFICE IN MINTON, SASK., IS A GOOD CLUE THESE THIRD-GENERATION GRAIN GROWERS ARE MANAGING THEIR LAND A LITTLE DIFFERENTLY THAN THEIR NEIGHBOURS.


Derek and Tannis Axten farm 5,000 acres of land in Minton, Sask. The family keeps their acreage green for more than 200 days of the year with cover crops that protect the earth from sun and wind and feed the soil with their roots.RANDY RISLING FOR THE TORONTO STAR

A more obvious sign is found while walking the rows of flax and lentils, mustard and forage peas, chickpeas and flax. In a province known for fields of gold thanks to a monoculture mentality that prizes growing a single crop in a given area, the Axtens are seeding 13 different combinations of grains and legumes.

While many of their neighbours stay true to a 100-day growing season, leaving the land almost bare after fall harvest, the Axtens work to keep their acreage green for more than 200 days of the year with cover crops such as sweet clover, chickling vetch and oats whose main jobs are to protect the earth from sun and wind and feed the soil with their live roots.

When the couple took over Derek’s family farm in 2006, part of which his grandfather worked more than a century ago, they inherited a rich history but also some incredibly fragile soil and no dependable source of water.

The 5,000 acres they’re farming is almost smack dab in the heart of North America’s “geographic centre,” which (according to the 1931 U.S. Geological Survey) is Rugby, N.D., — 422 kilometres southeast of Minton following Highway 18.

You can’t get any farther from the ocean.

Climate variation between seasons on the prairies is among the most dramatic on Earth, characterized by repeated wet and dry cycles. With warming temperatures, future droughts are projected to be “more frequent and intense” across the southern Canadian Prairies, according to Canada’s Changing Climate Report, which was released in 2019 by the federal government.

International and Canadian researchers are predicting warmer winters for the region, potentially one of the few great news stories to come out of climate change research because it would bring a longer growing season, the promise of significantly higher yields for farmers and a big bump to the national economy. But a hotter climate without adequate moisture in the soil could also spell disaster. Moisture is a transformative element driving the physics, chemistry and biology of healthy soil. Water brings life. Without it, you’re looking at a pile of lifeless, and increasingly useless, dirt.

That’s why the Axtens are among a small but growing group of farmers across the province — some supported by commercial agricultural players known as “Big Ag” — who are working overtime on this challenge. A big part of their solution requires turning their soil into the world’s biggest sponges. MORE

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SOIL HEALTH IS FINALLY STARTING TO GET THE ATTENTION IT DESERVES

Decentralized Microgridding Can Provide 90% of a Neighborhood’s Energy Needs, Study Finds

“The new approach could even pave the way for 100 percent self-sufficiency in power, heat, and water.”


Image: Metabolic

A new report funded by the Dutch government finds that microgrid technologies could make a local “techno-economy” 90 percent self-sufficient, through the decentralised sharing of energy at the local level between multiple households.

The new approach could even pave the way for “100 percent self-sufficiency in power, heat, and water, and 50 percent self-sufficiency in food production”, according to the report’s author, energy systems engineer Florijn de Graaf.

If optimized properly, microgrids could play a pivotal role in supporting efforts to transition to renewable energy systems and meet climate targets, finds the report published by Netherlands-based energy systems company Metabolic. The report was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Netherlands Enterprise Agency.

Under the Paris Agreement, the Dutch government has pledged to drop its carbon dioxide emissions by 80-95 percent by 2050.

Reaching that goal will require an extraordinary level of effort by any standard. But the use of microgrids—decentralised energy grids that intelligently balance the local supply and demand of distributed clean energy resources—could avoid the need for massive spending on infrastructure upgrades.

FROM DUMB TO SMART

According to the new report, titled New Strategies For Smart Integrated Decentralised Energy Systems, by 2050 almost half of all EU households will produce renewable energy. Of these, more than a third will participate in a local energy community. In this context, the microgrid opportunity could be a game changer.

The report describes microgrids as the end result the combination of several technological trends, namely, rooftop solar, electric vehicles, heat pumps and batteries for storage. The key is that these technologies are decentralized—they can easily be owned by consumers and cooperatives in local systems.

“As time progresses, costs go down and climate awareness goes up, more and more people will start owning one or more of these technologies,” de Graaf told me. MORE

Here’s how the footprint of the plant-based Impossible Burger compares to beef

A new analysis finds that the environmental cost of raising cattle is very, very high.


[Photos: Impossible Foods, Robert Bye/Unsplash]

The newest version of the Impossible Burger–the plant-based meat that uses food science to replicate the taste and feel of beef–has a carbon footprint 89% smaller than a burger made from a cow.

A new  analysis found that the burger also uses 87% less water than beef, uses 96% less land, and cuts water contamination by 92%. Those numbers are improvements on the last iteration of the burger, in part because the company has become more efficient as it grows and because it switched from wheat to soy as a key ingredient, because soy also yields more acres on a farm. But the majority of the impact simply comes from the fact that the product isn’t made from an animal.

The best, fastest, easiest way to make meat more sustainable is to avoid the cow,” says Rebekah Moses, senior manager of impact strategy at Impossible Foods. “By making the Impossible Burger directly from plants, we have the luxury of bypassing the most inefficient stage in the entire food system.” Cows are known for their greenhouse gas-producing burps–the largest source of methane emissions in agriculture–but also require cattle feed that takes large amounts of land, water, fertilizer to grow, and often leads to deforestation. The cow’s manure is also another major of source of pollution.

The life-cycle analysis, which was verified by the sustainability consulting group Quantis, looked at each part of the plant-based burger’s production, from the water and energy used to produce heme, the ingredient that gives the flavor a blood-like taste, to the resources used to grow other ingredients like soy and potatoes, and produce the packaging. The product uses 4% of the land needed to produce beef. “That’s a very, very conservative estimate on our part–most cattle globally require far more land than that estimate,”Moses says. “It’s completely inefficient, and it’s why beef is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon. If most of the land that’s used for cattle feed were to be left alone, without the gassy animals, to re-vegetate and actually store carbon in trees and grasslands, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we could set the clock back on climate change through food choice alone.”

For an individual, the company calculated, swapping Impossible “meat” for a pound of ground beef saves seven pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, 90 gallons of water, and 290 square feet of land. Still, while some consumers might be choosing plant-based meat for environmental reasons, the startup isn’t relying on sustainability to sell the product. “What we really wanted was to create a delicious product that can compete with beef on taste and craveability,” she says. “That’s the primary motivator for most people, and that’s who we want to empower by providing a more planet-friendly option. Sustainability attributes are, for most consumers, a ‘nice to have’ in food choice, rather than the driving force of purchasing.” SOURCE

 

 

The water justice movement’s fight against commodification and extractivism

Photo: Peg Hunter/Flickr

An overview of the water justice movement in Canada and the ways in which power is manufactured and deployed in water governance.

Water is a cross-cutting issue among many social movements in Canada and in Indigenous nations. The water justicement movement here is diverse and includes grassroots groups, individual activists, Indigenous nations and groups, environmental and labour organizations, scientists, workers and many others.

They work on broad range of issues including calling for justice in the face of drinking water advisories in First Nations communities, Nestlé and other bottled water takings, oil and gas drilling, pipelines, mining, fracking and liquefied natural gas (LNG), public-private partnerships, nuclear waste and other threats. There are also localized movements fighting mega quarries, logging and so much more.

The various struggles within the water justice movement overlap at times. The underlying messages and principles throughout all of these fights are often “water is life,” “water is sacred,” “water is not for sale” and “water is a human right.”

Power is manufactured and deployed through:

  • The creation of laws or policies: For example, Bill C-69 which includes the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, has significant impacts on water, yet fails to obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous nations, cutting many out from decision-making processes.
  • Policing and criminalization of dissent: There are a lot of examples where governments and police criminalize Indigenous peoples and settler activists for defending lands and waters such as the Line 9 pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline, fracking in Elsipogtog First Nation and the raid on Wet’suwet’en territory earlier this year, and protect corporate interests instead.
  • Land or property: Whether land is designated Crown land, private property or recognized as Indigenous territory gives some people power and leaves others out of decision making.
  • Messaging, language and framing particularly in the media: Messaging can be based on false assumptions. For example, messages like “the fossil fuel industry is the only way to create jobs” or “pipelines, fracking and bottling water are good for the economy” are based on the false assumption that the current capitalist economy is good for everyone.
  • Knowledge and access to information: Public-private partnerships are often kept secret — like in the case of Winnipeg — and that inhibits a community’s ability to engage in genuine democratic debate.

MORE

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Breakthrough: Water Apocalypse

Despite Earth’s surface being covered with water, there is very little water to drink. Saltwater oceans make up 97 per cent of the water on Earth. Glaciers at our polar caps lock up two per cent of our fresh water. Seven billion people and millions of animal species share just one per cent of the water available on our planet. With climate change savaging weather systems and our population rising, scientists and engineers are struggling to find local solutions for the global water problem.

England could run short of water within 25 years

Tŝilhqot’in’s ‘spiritual war’ to protect land, water, rights

Image result for Tŝilhqot'in’s ‘spiritual war’ to protect land, water, rights

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation, not unlike other Indigenous Nations across this young country known as Canada, often prioritize their own legal systems and values over colonial legal orders that in most cases were brutally enforced on sovereign nations.

For the Tŝilhqot’in, the most important laws, Chief Alphonse explained, have to do with the protection of water.

Through oral history, Chief Alphonse learned from a young age that other crimes, like stealing, perhaps wouldn’t have traditionally been considered such a big crime. There would be consequences, he said, but they wouldn’t be severe.

“But you come and do damage to the quality of water,” he said, his face suddenly serious, “or you damage the highest elevation spawning grounds in North America… You do damage to the quality of water, in some cases, that was considered one of the biggest crimes you could commit.

“You’re talking about our livelihood and our dependence on the sockeye run, you’re talking about the starvation of a whole nation. To maintain a healthy run you have to have clean water. Water is the most precious thing for our people.” MORE