Tag Archives: Climate change

The Canadian government’s constantly changing climate goals

“Everybody has thrown out numbers and different targets, and what they’re going to do and what is going to happen…What we need is not ambitious political targets.”

– Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, CBC interview, October 10, 2015

“[On] the question for framing the temperature goal, we support reference to striving for 1.5 [degrees Celsius of warming] as other countries have said…If we want to achieve this temperature goal, everyone needs to be part of this. We need maximum participation where everyone puts their best efforts forward.”

– Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, Paris COP21 summit, December 7, 2015

How the hell do we square these two statements with each other?

Because make no mistake about it, a temperature target of 1.5°C is both an ambitious target and a political one.

Major industrialized nations, including the United States and the European Union, favour a target of 2°C. The 1.5°C target, favoured by nations in the Global South, and particularly low-lying and island nations, is the more ambitious of the two targets on the table during Paris negotiations, as it requires a much more rapid transition away from major sources of carbon emissions. It is a matter of life or death for hundreds of millions of people living at or near sea level: Continue Reading

ICYMI – badass direct action shuts down Line 9B

Although Enbridge must have known that they would face protest when they first proposed reversing their Line 9B to pump diluted bitumen from Sarnia to Montreal, there’s no way they could have anticipated the ferocity of the opposition that’s resulted.

A massive and widespread citizen campaign to stop the project sprung up across southern Ontario and Quebec, including many First Nations communities. Line 9B’s reversal has been subject to multiple disruptive direct actions interfering with the infrastructure of the line as well as the process of approval by the industry-captured National Energy Board (NEB). The project has also been subject to a massive court case brought by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nations over Enbridge’s lack of proper consultation, a case which is now making its way to the Supreme Court of Canada, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.

For those readers unfamiliar with the catastrophe-in-waiting that is Line 9B, here’s a summary from an older post of mine on the issue:

Line 9 is an already-existing pipeline which runs from Montreal to Sarnia, and for the past forty years or so it’s been transporting refined light crude oil westward. Enbridge, which owns the pipeline, applied to the National Energy Board for permission to reverse the pipeline’s direction, increase the volume it was allowed to transport, and switch over to transporting unrefined tar sands bitumen.

There’s a lot of issues with this plan. Bitumen has to be transported at a considerably higher pressure and temperature than light crude, and there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forty-year-old pipeline. A similar Enbridge pipeline of similar age burst near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2010, spilling over three million litres of bitumen into the Kalamazoo River. The fact that bitumen, unlike crude oil, sinks in fresh water made the disaster significantly worse, necessitating a complicated multi-year cleanup and causing massive damage to wildlife and the health of local residents.

That the oil spilled in a river is significant, because Line 9 crosses 36 different tributaries of Lake Ontario. A major spill of bitumen could be catastrophic for the world’s fourteenth-largest lake, which is the source of drinking water to over 9 million people in Canada and the United States.

And on top of all that, tar sands extraction is quite literally one of the most short-sided and ecocidal policies the human race could be pursuing right now. Making it easier for Enbridge to bring tar sands bitumen to international markets would be a terrible idea even if the structural integrity of Line 9 was guaranteed.

Despite this tenacious and active opposition and the weight of the arguments against the project, Enbridge was granted final approval to reverse the line a few weeks ago, and the company began pumping bitumen eastwards on December 3.

But even after the NEB’s approval and the line’s full reversal, the opposition to Enbridge’s project continues. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why did green groups endorse Alberta NDP’s plan to increase tar sands production and build pipelines?

When Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley announced her government’s plan to combat climate change late last month, it was widely perceived as bold and ambitious. Hailed by green organizations across Canada and embraced by many in the business community, the plan seemed to be a major breakthrough on the contentious issue of tar sands extraction.

But the unholy alliance of oil companies and environmental advocates should have been a clue that all was not as it seemed.

To be sure, there’s a lot to like about the NDP’s plan. The total phasing out of all coal-burning plants in the province over the next fifteen years is laudatory, as is the government’s commitment to dramatically increase sustainable energy generation in Alberta.

But Alberta doesn’t have a bad rap on climate issues because of its coal plants or dearth of windmills. By far the single greatest source of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions is the oil and gas industry, and for any Albertan climate plan to be effective, it would have to successfully tackle this well-financed behemoth. However, the initial hype surrounding the Premier’s announcement of a cap on tar sands extraction is looking increasingly misplaced under closer scrutiny.

The fact that a cap had been imposed at all was, the government and its boosters insisted, cause for celebration in and of itself – “one of the first times that an oil jurisdiction has placed a limit on growth,” gushed Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema. “The days of the infinite growth of the tar sands are over and investors should take note.”

Caveatting that the significance of the cap “cannot be overstated”, Hudema did also point out that, from a scientific point of view, the cap’s limits aren’t remotely sufficient. But the size of the cap was obscured in media coverage, partly by the unwieldily scale of the numbers involved. A 100-megaton annual limit was imposed on tar sands production in the province – and if you can calculate, off the top of your head, whether or not that allows for tar sands expansion, and if so, by how much, then you get a lollypop.

Thankfully for those of us who aren’t environmental scientists, the Edmonton Journal did the math – and it’s not exactly encouraging: Continue Reading

“Political realities”, protest, and the preemptive deflation of expectations at COP21

As Prime Minister Justin “We don’t need emission targets” Trudeau heads to Paris for the COP21 climate summit, his Minister of the Environment and Climate Change is already trying to negotiate down expectations for the final outcome of what has been billed as humanity’s last chance at averting catastrophic global warming.

If you’ll recall, there was a lot of fanfare when it was announced that “climate change” was going to be tacked on to the Environment Minister’s title, but I pointed out at the time that this was pure spin – the Liberals campaigned actively on being a more effective champion for the oil/gas/pipeline industry than the outgoing Conservatives had ever been, and that substantive commitment far outweighed any superficial change in tone.

Now, I hate to be right about this, but I’ve gotta say, I was right…

Canada on Friday backed the U.S. approach to major climate change talks in Paris, saying any carbon reduction targets agreed to at the negotiations should not be legally binding.

The announcement by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna could irritate host nation France, which wants any deal to be enforceable. That would be politically impossible for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, however, since it is clear the Republican-dominated Congress would not ratify any treaty imposing legally binding cuts on the United States.

“Everyone wants to see the United States be part of this treaty,” McKenna told reporters on a conference call before flying to Paris. “There are political realities in the United States … they cannot have legally binding targets. We don’t expect that the targets will be internationally legally binding,” she said.

In other words, it’s unfortunate that oil-funded Republican corporate shills in the U.S. Senate essentially hold veto power over a comprehensive, legally-binding climate change agreement that will preserve a livable future for our planet, but what can we do? That’s the “political reality”, after all…hell, even Thompson Reuters agrees, in an objective neutral journalistic tone, that it would be “politically impossible” to push a legally binding agreement through the U.S. Congress. Continue Reading

After Paris attacks, protest is criminalized – and major activist groups are complicit

Image description: a WWF promotional poster features a panda with a megaphone and a young person with a skateboard leading a crowd of protestors holding signs and banners through rubble-littered streets. The caption reads: “Paris Climat 2015: Pour tout changer, nous avons besoins de tous.” (To change everything, we need everyone.)

Starting next Sunday, November 29, the largest and most important international climate conference to date will begin in Paris. The 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP21) aims for nothing less than the establishment of an international framework for pricing and trading carbon, with the aim of holding the global increase in temperatures to 2°C.

The behind-the-scenes planning and lobbying and scheming in the lead-up to this conference has been extensive – as has the out-in-the-open organizing by environmental activists and organizations. And, upon close inspection, there’s quite a bit to protest at the COP21.

For instance, the access to negotiations and deliberations that has been granted to major international corporations is considerable and troubling, especially when compared with the positive dearth of consultation with the most affected frontline communities. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that the promised emissions reductions to date fall miserably short of achieving the hardline target of 2°C or less of warming which the scientific community warns is the most that our civilization can possibly endure.

Given how high the stakes are, and how non-transparent and open to corruption the negotiation process is, the scale of demonstrations was projected to be massive – the “largest climate civil disobedience ever”, organizers said in October, although even then the major professional activist organizations were trying to soft-pedal the more militant grassroots factions’ plans: Continue Reading

After Keystone XL: taking stock of pipeline resistance in Canada

There’s no question about it: yesterday’s decision by President Barack Obama to reject TransCanada’s application to build the northern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline is a big deal.

There were a multitude of factors that led to Obama’s decision, but chief among them was the fact that an army of activists and agitators have successfully associated the pipeline with the dirty tar sands carbon bomb at its source. In fact, Obama specifically invoked climate change in explaining the rationale behind his rejection, saying that approving the pipeline would be inconsistent with tackling global warming.

This is a massive win for activists. As Neil Macdonald points out, the oil companies have considered Keystone to be a done deal for half a decade or more, and at least one oil lobbyist who spoke to him credits the turnaround almost entirely to environmentalist activism.

And yes, while Keystone has been delayed, the amount of raw bitumen shipped (by train and by more roundabout pipeline routes) from the tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico has tripled in the last seven years, and yes, TransCanada could very well resubmit a slightly altered proposal with a totally different name to the next American administration, and yes, the Trudeau government is an eager advocate for the tar sands and could use their masterful command of symbolic gesture and tone control to try to change international perceptions of Canada’s “dirty oil”. All of this is undeniably true. There’s a lot of work still to be done.

But to know that a project this major which is so enthusiastically backed by so many powerful players can still be brought down by persistent and determined activism (with a healthy dash of direct action mixed in) is incredibly encouraging. It’s heartening to see the environmental movement get such a big win, and it could very well be the harbinger of a shift in public thought about fossil fuels in general and/or the tar sands in particular.

With that in mind, I thought I’d check back in with the resistance to pipelines here in Canada. At present, there are at least three major sites of contention, and in each case there are reasons to be optimistic that resistance will ultimately be successful.

Some major proposed pipelines in Canada (image credit: CBC)

Continue Reading

Why did the NDP lose so badly? Here’s a close look at some popular explanations

There really isn’t a good way to spin it. The NDP lost hard on Monday night.

When the election started in early August, they were leading in the polls and poised to form government for the first time in their long history. Eleven weeks later, their support had cratered; rather than building on their 2011 outing, their most successful ever, they instead lost more than half their caucus, including many of their most experienced and well-known members.

Instead of moving from Stornaway to 24 Sussex, Thomas Mulcair is now house-hunting at considerably less prestigious addresses, no doubt grateful to even still have his job after a relatively close race in his riding of Outremont.

That’s the kind of meagre consolation NDP stalwarts are offering each other these days. It could have been worse – at least Mulcair didn’t go full Ignatieff and lose his own seat!

There has been the digital equivalent of a ton of ink devoted to the question of What Happened To The NDP, and I wanted to take a close look at a few of the more popular explanations today. As we’ll see, most are at best incomplete and at worst completely unfounded.

The most easily discredited of these theories was quite prominent in the final month or so of the campaign: the notion that the NDP lost because their stance on the niqab was at odds with the majority of the electorate, especially in Quebec.

This one is transparently false. First of all, a close reading of the data shows that the party’s numbers were slipping several days before the issue shot to prominence in the first of the two French-language debates.  Continue Reading

“A difference of tone”: in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper

“The biggest difference between a party led by me and one by Stephen Harper will be one of tone.”

Justin Trudeau

Our soon-to-be-sworn-in Prime Minister spoke those words way back in April 2013, when he was in the midst of the Liberal leadership contest, and that was the moment when I was officially done with him.

Not that I didn’t have issues with former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “tone”, or his “style”. (And let’s just take a moment to savour that phrase: “former Prime Minister Stephen Harper”. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Add a “disgraced” at the beginning for maximum enjoyment!) Harper’s “tone” was pretty consistently condescending, bullying, mean-spirited, and paranoid. A change of tone in politics would be pretty nice, I suppose.

But if “tone” is the biggest change we get when Justin Trudeau moves (back) into 24 Sussex, then all this hullabaloo about “real change” amounts to nothing but a steaming mountain of bullshit. Because “tone” was the least bad thing about Harper’s tenure in the PMO.

Unfortunately, in many respects, our PM-to-be’s platform aligns with the outgoing Conservative Party on several critical issues.

Let’s look at a few of them, shall we? Continue Reading

Does it really matter who wins the election tomorrow?

This was the week that the campaign jumped the shark.

I’ve almost started a few posts with that line, but I had a funny feeling I’d need it for later. It’s like when I’m asked to rate your pain on a scale from one to ten; no matter how badly it hurts, I’m saving my “ten” in case it gets worse.

I’m glad I waited, because good god what a weird final week it’s been. Let’s just take a minute, for instance, and appreciate the fact that Rob friggin’ Ford and his bully brother Doug actually just hosted a Conservative Party rally for Stephen Harper. Ok? Letting that sink in?

The party of law and order, the party that literally just this week was publishing shady ads in Chinese and Punjabi warning people that Justin Trudeau was going to peddle pot to your kids and flood your neighbourhood with junkies, the party whose leader recently made the absurd statement that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco, on one of the very last days of a campaign in which it’s fighting for its life, basically held the #elxn42 iteration of Ford Fest, with recovering alcoholic/crack addict, racist, and alleged extortionist Rob Ford in attendance despite allegations from his former chief of staff that he was a habitual drunk driver while mayor emerging earlier that day, and complete with a barn-burner of a crowd-warmer speech by failed mayoral candidate and former big-time hash dealer Doug Ford, a man who has publicly expressed interest – during this very election campaign! – in taking Stephen Harper’s job if the Cons should happen to lose.

I mean, at a certain point, words fail. “Absurd” doesn’t really cut it, does it?

It must speak to the desperation within the Harper camp. They’re obviously hoping that some of that Ford Nation magic will rub off on their campaign, which is questionable logic to me. How many hardcore Ford fanatics were thinking of not voting Conservative?

At this point, Harper’s trying every trick he can think of to cling to power. This week, the Cons called in all their favours with Postmedia and the Thompson family to secure across-the-board endorsements from virtually every major daily in the country, including the single most absurd endorsement of all time, in which the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives while calling for Stephen Harper’s resignation.

Following up on the furor over the seemingly bought-and-paid-for endorsements, today people in cities across Canada woke up to newspapers wrapped in full-page ads in the style of Elections Canada notices proclaiming that “Voting Liberal will cost you“: Continue Reading

This week in Electionland: The TPP and the niqab fight for centre stage

As we enter the final two weeks of the longest election campaign in living memory, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on a stunning contrast.

For the past four days, negotiators from the twelve nations participating in the super-secretive Trans Pacific Partnership have been feverishly bargaining in Atlanta, Georgia, straining to get a deal done. As The Alfalfafield goes to the presses for the day, the rumours are that a deal is close, but we’ve heard these rumours before many times. (For those readers who aren’t up to speed on the TPP, here’s my summary from back in July, as well as more coverage from The Alfalfafield on the subject.)

The plain truth of the matter is that until every detail is worked out, everything could fall apart – and that’s my abiding hope. However, the steady drumbeat of upbeat rumours and selective leaks from insiders suggests that the principal negotiators want to at least create the impression of progress. The Japanese trade minister has apparently made it clear that he’s leaving Atlanta tonight for a long-scheduled meeting in Turkey tomorrow, so there’s a sense of now-or-never-ness to the whole affair. It’s preposterous that trade ministers who have in many cases gone several nights without sleep are being pressured to make concessions that will affect the lives of hundreds of millions of people and swell the profits of major international corporations on the basis of a man’s need to catch his flight on time, but such is the reality of the TPP. When you take a step back and look at it, the whole process is damned illogical.

After months of being a softly-simmering back burner story, over the past few weeks the TPP has stepped into the spotlight of Canadian news. But as I wrote earlier this week, the media’s focus has been narrowly focussed on the two under-negotiation issues of changes to Canada’s system of supply management in dairy farming and restrictions on the sourcing of auto parts, with precious little mention of the deeply problematic aspects of the agreement which have been public knowledge for quite some time: Continue Reading

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