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The Climate Crisis Discriminates. Maps Tell the Story

The Climate Crisis Discriminates. Maps Tell the Story

How data visualizers are helping to plan to support Cascadia’s most vulnerable communities. Next in a series.

[Editor’s note: This is the latest in a year-long occasional series of articles produced by InvestigateWest in partnership with The Tyee and other news organizations exploring what it will take to shift the Cascadia region to a zero-carbon economy, and is supported in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. ]

When climate change triggers heatwaves, fire or flood in the Cascadia bioregion stretching from Oregon to British Columbia, some communities will be whacked worse than others — even just miles apart.

“You can have neighbourhoods right next to one another and one may be twice as bad off during a flood. Not because they’re more flooded. But because their housing is worse,” said Michael Brauer, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health.

Maps commissioned as part of InvestigateWest’s yearlong reporting project, Getting to Zero: Decarbonizing Cascadia, span Washington and Oregon and provide digital windows into vulnerabilities that are likely to worsen with climate change. Montana-based Headwaters Economics created the interactive visualizations using a pair of powerful mapping tools that the community planning firm launched last year.

The maps created for this project are an example of tools that are seeing growing use in Cascadia, where equity advocates, academic researchers and governments are teaming up to create new data-driven methods to identify and address unequal environmental risks.

At UBC, Brauer also has developed various maps projecting the climate crisis’s uneven effects on communities, ranging from wildfire smoke to flooding and ozone concentrations.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Critics Skeptical as Alberta Reverses Course on Open-pit Coal Mines

Critics Skeptical as Alberta Reverses Course on Open-pit Coal Mines

Five days after Kenney defended the province’s mining push, the government says it was all a big mistake.

After months of ignoring a grassroots protest movement opposing plans to allow open-pit coal mining in Alberta’s Rockies, Energy Minister Sonya Savage said today the provincial government made a mistake and is now prepared to fix it.

In a brief news conference, Savage said the province would reinstate the 1976 Coal Policy, which prohibited open-pit mining on 1.5 million hectares of “Category 2” lands in the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

In addition, Savage said she had instructed the Alberta Energy Regulator that “no mountain top removal will be permitted” in the province and that all future coal exploration on the Category 2 lands will be paused indefinitely until public consultation is held.

Coal exploration by Australian miners on six existing leases in the foothills will not be paused.

Savage’s reinstatement of the Coal Policy directly contradicts statements from Premier Jason Kenney on Wednesday that the Coal Policy was a “dead letter” and obsolete.

The highly unpopular premier also characterized opponents of coal mining as urban snobs even though the majority of the opposition has come from his party’s angry base: ranchers, farmers, landowners and rural towns and municipalities.

The government’s abrupt change of course follows weeks of protests from hundreds of thousands of Albertans from all walks of life and all political parties.

They raised concerns about water security, selenium pollution (a legacy of open-pit coal mines), and the future of the province’s iconic eastern slopes.

Landowner and conservation groups greeted today’s announcement with skepticism.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Against Climate Gloom and Doom

Against Climate Gloom and Doom

When given a chance, life finds a way. Here are some reasons to keep hoping — and fighting.

[Editor’s note: As the environmental problems facing our world compound, despair may feel like a rational response. In her new book Hope Matters: Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis, environmental scholar Elin Kelsey makes an evidence-based argument for choosing hope over despair. Kelsey holds up examples of how ecosystems — including along our coasts and in our ocean — have managed to rebound from damage when given the chance, illustrating nature’s impressive resilience. By sharing these case studies, Kelsey offers reasons to reject apathy and to mobilize. Only if we believe there’s an opportunity to make a real positive impact will we find the motivation to fight for the protection and restoration of ecosystems we depend on. In this condensed excerpt, Kelsey shares a few hope-filled success stories specific to coastal ecosystems.]

We are living amid a planetary crisis. “I am hopeless,” a student in an environmental study graduate program recently told me. “I’ve seen the science. I am hopeless because the state of the planet is hopeless.”

It’s not surprising she feels so depressingly fatalistic. In his speech at the start of a two-week international conference in Madrid, Spain, in December 2019, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said, “The point of no return is no longer over the horizon. It is in sight and hurtling toward us.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How BC’s Fossil Fuel Fights Link to a String of Wins in the US

How BC’s Fossil Fuel Fights Link to a String of Wins in the US

A thin green line with global impact. Latest in a series on creating a zero-carbon bioregion.

On a brisk December morning in 2012, Montana ranchers in cowboy hats walked alongside members of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe in traditional regalia through the streets of Seattle in search of a good breakfast. After eating, they headed to Seattle’s convention centre to square off against multinational companies aiming to move coal on trains through the Pacific Northwest to be loaded on ships bound for Asia.

Their partnership went the distance. Three years after that hearing, the proposed Washington coal terminal was dead. Those trains bearing Montana and Wyoming coal never rolled.

Opponents’ victory in that case was emblematic of how environmentalists, Indigenous Peoples, ranchers, politicians, doctors, fishermen and even windsurfers worked for a decade to fend off more than 20 proposals to ship fossil fuels across the Pacific Ocean, from near Prince Rupert, British Columbia clear south to San Luis Obispo, Calif.

While readers of The Tyee will be aware of ongoing resistance in B.C. against extracting and transporting fossil fuels, this is the story of how such efforts have for years crossed borders to connect with activism up and down the West Coast. The range of projects fought, from shipping coal and oil by train to pumping gas and oil through pipes, is a reminder of how sprawling and persistent the fossil fuel industry’s global export agenda is. And it demonstrates the power of grassroots organizing.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Cascadia Was Poised to Lead on Climate. Can It Still?

Cascadia Was Poised to Lead on Climate. Can It Still?

BC, Washington and Oregon all aimed to slash emissions. After epic battles, they failed. First in a series on creating a zero-carbon bioregion.

With dozens of people killed by wildfires in the western U.S., millions of acres scorched and choking smoke spreading far into British Columbia, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee lit up the news wires in September. “These are not just wildfires,” Inslee asserted at a press conference from Olympia, “these are climate fires.”

Two days later on George Stephanopoulos’ Sunday-morning ABC News talk show, the recent presidential candidate recounted a poignant visit to a town nearly wiped out by the fires. “The only moisture in Eastern Washington was the tears of people who have lost their homes,” said Inslee. “And now we have a blowtorch over our states in the West, which is climate change.”

Just days after his return to the national stage, however, the question in a Seattle courtroom was whether the state he’d run since 2013 should be sanctioned for helping to fuel and light that torch. On Thursday, Sept. 17, an attorney representing Inslee and the entire apparatus of Washington state government stood to tell three masked judges behind a plexiglass shield that courts could not hold the state legally responsible for its part in the climate crisis: The part where it expanded highways. The part where it licensed power plants and factories to emit many tons of greenhouse gases. Where it set building standards that would keep residents’ stoves and furnaces and water heaters polluting the atmosphere for decades to come.

 

Hope for the Best from Canada’s UNDRIP Law. But Expect More of the Same

Hope for the Best from Canada’s UNDRIP Law. But Expect More of the Same

Like BC, the federal government is better at talking about Indigenous rights than it is at actually respecting them.

Is this really a game changer for Indigenous Peoples in Canada? I have my doubts, as do others.

There are two reasons for skepticism.

First, Bill C-15 focuses on high-level, aspirational commitments rather than on delivering concrete, immediate change to Indigenous Peoples.

If passed into law, Bill C-15 will require the federal government to take measures to ensure the laws of Canada are consistent with the declaration, and to prepare and implement an action plan to achieve its objectives. While enacting sweeping changes to federal legislation will undoubtedly take time, the federal government’s focus on these future promises conveniently allows it to sidestep the realities that Indigenous people face on a daily basis.

Governments pour promises on Indigenous people like a winter rain. Rather than witnessing real change, we are too often left with cold disappointment.

Maybe it’ll be different this time. But, if the experience of British Columbia’s UNDRIP legislation is an accurate predictor, we should all dress for more cold rains.

Passed a little over a year ago to great fanfare, the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act has failed to live up to its promise. Instead, the provincial government has continued with its dreary, self-serving narrative based on the denial of Indigenous rights.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Alberta Government Fines Hunter for Trespassing on Australian Coal Lease

Alberta Government Fines Hunter for Trespassing on Australian Coal Lease

Levi Williams-Whitney traversed the land to make a video opposing open-pit mining. He has no regrets.

The Kenney government has fined an Alberta hunter $600 for making an anti-coal video, but the young man says he’s laughing.

Last October, Levi Williams-Whitney went for a gambol up Grassy Mountain just north of the town of Blairmore in Alberta’s historic Crowsnest Pass.

Much of the mountain is now owned by Benga Mining (Riversdale Resources), a firm purchased by Australian billionaire Gina Rinehart in 2019 for $700 million.

With the Kenney government’s blessings, Rinehart, an iron-ore magnate and Australia’s wealthiest woman, has proposed to reduce what is now the habitat of mountain sheep, trout and elk into a giant open-pit coal mine. (The mountain top removal project is under a joint federal-provincial review.)

Another bunch of Australian developers want to remove more than half a dozen other nearby mountains from the Rockies to also supply Asian steel markets. They, too, have the government’s enthusiastic support.

Williams-Whitney, an avid hunter and environmental student at the University of Lethbridge, wasn’t impressed with Rinehart’s plans, let alone the Alberta government’s red-carpet treatment for Australian coal miners.

“The video was my way to express some of my frustration and refine my thinking about the issues,” said Williams-Whitney who has hunted for elk in the eastern slopes for years.

So he drove an hour-and-a-half from his home in Lethbridge to the Crowsnest Pass, where underground coal mines, French coal barons and communist unions once dominated the region’s turbulent history some 100 years ago.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Site C Construction Should Stop Today

Why Site C Construction Should Stop Today

The BC government has failed in its oversight role, say a former BC Hydro CEO and a veteran dam engineer.

Site C is the most expensive publicly funded infrastructure project in British Columbia’s history and the dam’s construction is being spearheaded by BC Hydro, a publicly owned hydroelectric utility whose sole shareholder is the provincial government.

That ought to mean that our elected leaders and civil servants place the highest priority on keeping on top of everything that goes on at Site C, because ultimately all British Columbians must pay for the project.

But there is an even more compelling reason why our government must be fully and effectively engaged on this project. All dams built in British Columbia must, by provincial statute, be designed, built and maintained to the highest safety standards.

Dams do not fail often. But when they do, the losses can be devastating. Which is why B.C.’s dam safety regulation is in place, and why it falls to engineers and dam safety officials employed by the provincial government to ensure that all dams built in the province have structural integrity.

Unfortunately, this important responsibility has rarely been mentioned as Site C has careened from one set of problems to another.

First there was the troubling tension crack that opened a gaping maw on the north riverbank following initial excavation work in 2017, leading to the removal of millions of cubic metres of additional earth to stabilize a clearly unstable bank.

Then there was problem after problem drilling the project’s diversion and drainage tunnels, as portions of the concrete liners anchored to the tunnel walls gave way and crashed to the tunnel floors — incidents later attributed to the soft shale that dominates the site.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Threatened by Coal, Ranchers Take the Kenney Government to Court

Threatened by Coal, Ranchers Take the Kenney Government to Court

Alberta is poised to let miners destroy mountaintops and vital watersheds grazed for a century.

When Jason Kenney’s government quietly abolished the province’s visionary Coal Policy last May to appease Australian coal miners, a shock wave travelled through cowboy country along the scenic slopes of the southern Rockies.

One of those waves arrived at the doorstep of the Rocking P Ranch owned by Mac and Renie Blades.

Another hit the nearby Plateau Cattle Co. owned by John Smith and Laura Laing.

Both families graze their cattle at the base of a fir-topped mountain called Cabin Ridge during the summer months.

Under the province’s 44-year-old Coal Policy the picturesque mountain lay within a landscape known as Category 2. That classification forbade open-pit mining and thereby conserved a precious watershed in arid Alberta.

But in one fell swoop the Kenney government ended that protection by killing the policy and most of its land classification system.

As a consequence the province abruptly opened up 1.5 million hectares of the southern Rockies to mountaintop removal in the middle of the Oldman River watershed, which supplies drinking water to more than a million Canadians. The government is now taking bids for some of that area until Dec. 15.

Australian leaders of coal mining corporations, who had lobbied for the abolishment of the Coal Policy, openly praised the government when their wish was granted.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Big Banks’ Green Bafflegab

The Big Banks’ Green Bafflegab

Look behind their pro-climate ads and do what they do. Follow the money.

There must be a basement somewhere on Bay Street full of English majors. Every day they churn out great reams of verbiage about “environmental, social and governance strategy” and fill annual reports with a dozen different ways to say that the big five Canadian banks care about the environment.

Except the numbers tell a different story, and if you want to know the truth, then the old adage “follow the money” will steer you in the right direction, passing quickly through all the green bafflegab and arriving at the conclusion that the banks are sacrificing our climate to make a profit.

The latest news is a recent pledge by TD to achieve a “target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions associated with our operations and financing activities by 2050,” trumpeting that it’s the first Canadian bank to do so. Sounds good, yes?

But dig deeper and there’s no mention that since the Paris Agreement TD has financed more than C$135 billion in fossil fuel projects, the eighth largest amount out of all the banks on the planet. What will TD’s net-zero pledge do to alter this climate-killing practice? It doesn’t say. But judging from the collective shrug from the oil patch, probably not much.

What TD does say is that it will “work closely with clients” rather than decide that certain clients probably shouldn’t be clients. Notably, Suncor, Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. all also have 2050 net-zero pledges, so presumably TD will continue to finance them, whose products rapidly fill our atmosphere with “green” carbon while our life-support systems fail.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Horgan Seems Fine with Muzzling the True Site C Watchdog

Horgan Seems Fine with Muzzling the True Site C Watchdog

The independent BC Utilities Commission demanded answers on risks and was brushed off.

BC Hydro has, in a Trumpian gesture, brushed off the last independent oversight of the out-of-control Site C project, with the apparent support of the newly elected NDP government.

The BC Utilities Commission is supposed to make sure BC Hydro is acting responsibly in the interests of its customers. It’s the only check on the monopoly $6-billion Crown corporation.

But BC Hydro just gave the finger to the regulator, and to British Columbians. And Premier John Horgan seems to be fine with that.

The utilities commission is mandated to ensure BC Hydro makes good decisions in the public interest. It scrutinizes the corporation’s budgets, plans and projections. It approves — or rejects — rate increases, and reports on whether projects like Site C are needed and based on a sound business case.

In doing that, it relies on BC Hydro to accept the oversight and provide needed information.

And BC Hydro has simply dismissed its obligation to accept independent oversight.

On July 31, BC Hydro filed updates on Site C with the utilities commission.

They were alarming. BC Hydro revealed there was “uncertainty with the dam’s schedule and in-service date” and “significant financial pressures.” So significant the corporation said it was coming up with a new budget and schedule for the megaproject.

And BC Hydro said that in late December a “project risk” had “materialized.”

The dam’s main structures — spillways and the giant power generating hall — are being built on unstable ground. The corporation is trying to figure out a solution and it has no idea how much this will cost.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘You Have Zero Privacy’ Says an Internal RCMP Presentation. Inside the Force’s Web Spying Program

‘You Have Zero Privacy’ Says an Internal RCMP Presentation. Inside the Force’s Web Spying Program

‘Project Wide Awake’ files obtained by The Tyee show efforts to secretly buy and use powerful surveillance tools while downplaying capabilities.

A 3,000-page batch of internal communications from the RCMP obtained by The Tyee provides a window into how the force builds its capabilities to spy on internet users and works to hide its methods from the public.

The emails and documents pertain to the RCMP’s Tactical Internet Operation Support unit based at the national headquarters in Ottawa and its advanced web monitoring program called Project Wide Awake.

The files include an internal RCMP presentation that contradict how the force has characterized Project Wide Awake to Canada’s privacy commissioner and The Tyee in past emails. A slide labels the program’s activities “Social Media Surveillance,” despite the RCMP having denied that description applied.

Communications show one high-level officer blasting the project before leaving the RCMP for Chinese tech firm Huawei.

Other members were jokingly dismissive of public concerns about privacy violations — a training slide for the project says: “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”

In seeking contract renewals and wider capabilities, the RCMP claimed its spying produced successful results, including finding online a “direct threat” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The documents reveal the RCMP:

    • Gained permission to hide sole-source contracts for Project Wide Awake from the public through a “national security exception.”
    • Discussed “tier three” covert operations involving the use of proxies — intermediary computers located elsewhere — to hide RCMP involvement with spying activities.
    • Purchased software with an aim to search “Darknet,” which it defined to include “private communications” and those from “political protests.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: The Coming Collapse VIII

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Chitchen Itza, Mexico (1986) Photo by author

Once again, a comment I posted in response to an article on The Tyee.

Where to begin? I realise this article is primarily about a federal political party and its future but there are two underlying issues that are discussed that need far more exploration and understanding if we are going to be projecting where a particular party or even government will be down the road (let alone the entire world).

If we are going to be discussing energy and Peak Oil then there is SO much more to bring into the conversation. Yes, politics plays a role (as it always does) but the topic is vastly wider than sociopolitics. It encompasses virtually everything in our complex, globalised industrial world. Everything. From the way we create potable water, to how we feed ourselves, to how we build and heat our homes (I’ve purposely focused on the three items we NEED to live…everything else is icing but just as dependent on energy, especially fossil fuels).

First things first. There is NO substitute for fossil fuels. At least not one that can sustain our current world the way it is configured. No, alternatives to fossil fuels cannot do it. They are not ‘clean’ as the mining, refinement, and manufacturing processes for them are environmentally damaging. They have a low energy-return-on-energy-invested (EROEI) and provide little ‘bang for the buck’. They cannot fuel many important industrial processes such as steel and concrete production. They depend very much on continued exploitation of fossil fuel, both upstream and downstream. They are NOT a panacea.

We are stuck with fossil fuels, until and unless we are ready and willing to give up probably 90% or more of what we consider ‘modernity’.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Concrete: Our Future Is Anchored in the Stuff

Concrete: Our Future Is Anchored in the Stuff

The modern world is made of a wondrous, terrible product of human ingenuity. A new book tells the story.

Concrete: From Ancient Origins to a Problematic Future

University of Regina Press (2020)

When something is everywhere, we stop seeing it: air, tap water, electricity. And concrete.

Concrete is everywhere, but many of us still call it “cement,” which is just one of concrete’s components. We take it for granted, unless we’re using it in some DIY project and it sets too soon. Using it right is almost as much art as science: Roman concrete still survives in places, but the concrete in the Samuel de Champlain Bridge disintegrated in a matter of years.

In this very readable book, Mary Soderstrom takes us from the chemistry of concrete though its long history as a kind of artificial stone to its present status as a fatal necessity — a building material urgently needed to protect us against the climate change it helps to cause.

Soderstrom’s narrative returns often to the new McInnis Cement plant on the Gaspé coast in eastern Quebec. It’s one of the latest producers in an industry that’s thousands of years old; it has an extensive market and bills itself as “ecologically sound.” But it also needs heavy government support, and inevitably contributes to the carbon dioxide emissions driving climate change.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh VI

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh VI

It’s truly unfortunate that our society pursues such self-evidently egregious exploits on our environment. You can’t continue to pollute your backyard without eventually destroying the complex ecological systems that support you — to say little about the finiteness of most resources we overly depend upon. And, certainly, we can’t continue to allow our sociopolitical ‘leaders’ to pursue such destructive policies and actions.

Yet, the issues and underlying dilemmas are much more complex than just exploitive foreign capital and revenue-seeking politicians. Yes, these are problematic; without a doubt. But they are one piece in a multi-layered puzzle that may or may not have a ‘solution’.

Society’s embracing of several self-destructive behaviours must be undone and reversed. Perhaps the most fundamental of these is the pursuit of ‘growth’. Economic. Population. Technological. Et cetera.

We do not live on a planet with infinite resources and the exponential increase of our activities continues to paint us further and further into a corner. While it is unlikely there will be a definitive ‘day of reckoning’ because of our blasting past our natural carrying capacity (since collapse is a process, not an event), the consequences of our actions will be felt as surely as day follows night.

In fact, it could be argued that we are already and have been experiencing the fallout of our expanding and increasingly complex activities for some time now. Decimated species required for food crop pollination. Expanding geopolitical tensions over resources, especially fossil fuels and water. Supply chain interruptions. Environmental disasters. Increasingly authoritarian government policies and edicts to control populations. Currency debasement. Global pandemics. And on and on.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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