Through the looking glass: Costa Rica and collective madness

Costa Rica has just announced the ambitious goal of banning all fossil fuels by 2021. Costa Rica admits there are challenges, despite getting 99% of energy from renewables – many cars and trucks in the nation still rely on gas and diesel, and getting that many people to buy new cars is unlikely by that date. Nonetheless, it’s a start. Many people around the world, especially other world leaders, may say that’s crazy, and impossible.

In Simon Pirani’s new book, Burning Up, he said about our failure to address climate change over the last 29 years as “[i]n a century’s time, when the impacts of global warming will be much more ruinous than they are today, people may look back at this failure as collective madness.”

A new article today announced “‘Precipitous’ fall in Antarctic sea ice since 2014 revealed.”

And a few days ago the OHCHR Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights released a draft report humbly entitled, “Climate change and poverty.”

The Special Rapporteur, Philip Alston, also a professor at New York University, wrote that;

“Even if current targets are met, tens of millions will be impoverished, leading to widespread displacement and hunger,” …

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.” … “It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work.”

“Most human rights bodies have barely begun to grapple with what climate change portends for human rights, and it remains one on a long laundry list of ‘issues’, despite the extraordinarily short time to avoid catastrophic consequences,” Alston said. “As a full-blown crisis that threatens the human rights of vast numbers of people bears down, the usual piecemeal, issue-by-issue human rights methodology is woefully insufficient.”

Is that enough information? Our Paris targets are insufficient, our traditional methods for dealing with problems are also insufficient, “woefully” so.

Costa Rica may be the only non-mad country on Earth.



BC’s 2040 vehicle emissions “targets” vs something useful..

Yesterday’s news was that “B.C. introduces law to require cars, trucks sold by 2040 be zero emission.” That looks good on paper, but is really not much help as far as fighting climate change in any meaningful way is concerned. But it could be.

There is more to it, of course, than just “zero emissions by 2040.” The draft Zero-Emissions Vehicle Act can be found here. It’s just gone through first reading, so there could be many changes yet. Andrew Weaver, leader of the Provincial Green Party has an informative post about it here. Weaver points out that the bill legislates that (in s. 7):

“(a) in 2025 and in each subsequent year, at least 10% of all new light-duty motor vehicles sold or leased in British Columbia must be zero-emission vehicles;

(b) in 2030 and in each subsequent year, at least 30% of all new light-duty motor vehicles sold or leased in British Columbia must be zero-emission vehicles;

(c) in 2040 and in each subsequent year, 100% of all new light-duty motor vehicles sold or leased in British Columbia must be zero-emission vehicles.”

So, there is not just one target in 2040, but ratcheting up targets along the way. The problem is – they do not start until 2025, after this government’s current mandate has ended, and they do not ratchet up fast enough, relying on the most significant change after 2030 and at 2040.

To put it another way, it means car makers can largely continue to make vehicles with the same very low emission standards they have now, until 2025, and only 10% of new vehicle sales must be Zero Emission from then to 2030, the date marking the “end of life as we know it,” according to the UN. So this Act will result in very little change to BC’s emissions before 2030, and the UN has told us we need to reduce emissions by 45% below 2010 levels by 2030 or face catastrophic consequences.

What would be useful? Well, next year is 2020. If 2040 is the target year, that’s 20 years. 100%, divided by 20 years, is five. So the amount could ratchet up by five percent per year, starting in 2020. The same end, but the requirement would come into effect almost immediately, and increase steadily and evenly. And it must not be a “target,” but mandatory.

Ie -in 2020 car manufacturers can only sell in BC if 5% of their cars released in the BC market are zero emissions. PERIOD. In 2021 – 10%, 2022 -15%, 2024 – 25%.

Regarding the target/mandatory question, section 7 of the Act, the part quoted above, starts like this, “The following targets are established for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in British Columbia:…”. The word “targets” is key here. What does that mean?

It’s not in the definition section, so it’s not clear from the direct language of the Act what it means. It helps a bit to see that s. 8 mandates the Province make annual “Provincial targets reports.” So, it seems like the intention is that there will be reports on whether or not the targets are met. Which seems to imply that in fact “targets” mean just that – something we are aiming for.

Well, one might respond, maybe it’s not possible to make it mandatory, or a clear prohibition. Maybe. Except then there’s section 9:

Prohibition in 2040 and subsequent years

9  On or after January 1, 2040, a person must not make a consumer sale of a light-duty motor vehicle that is not a zero-emission vehicle.

So, we have 15 years of low “targets”, starting in 2025, and then a clear prohibition in 2040. Ten years after the key date given to us by the UN.

Of course, we all understand that we live in a world beholden to the oil and gas industry, and that to speak or act against them in any immediate and impactful way is political suicide, and that we have come to a point where we have to rely on children to speak the truth. And in that context this is a pretty good try.

It will, however, make very little difference in preventing the worst impacts of climate change in relation to the tipping points we face by 2030, and therefore allows extreme and irreversible climate change that will seriously alter, or ruin (or end), our children’s lives. We must try harder.

As one suggestion, summarised from above; make it mandatory instead of “targets,” and ratchet it up by 5% per year, starting in 2020. That would be a good start.

Some initial thoughts on a forestry policy for human survival…

Can we create national forest policies that help deal with climate change, both in mitigating its effects, and adapting to its effects? Yes.

This post is focused on Canada, but can largely be translated to other countries. As always, this is not about gradual change – but making abrupt turns that preserve a future for our children, on the basis that the old rules are not working.

The FAO has called for policy and legislative changes regarding forestry, although perhaps not as steep change as is advocated for here. Last year they released an updated version of Climate change for forest policy-makers, version 2.0. Originally released in 2011, this version has substantial changes. It recommends that :

To make progress toward achieving their climate change mitigation and adaptation goals, countries may need to review and revise, on the basis of good governance principles, their forest-related policies and the way these policies are implemented. Given that adaptation and mitigation actions will require a legal basis for related rights and obligations, forest laws and related regulations are likely to need to be reviewed and adjusted to ensure their consistency with the forest policies.

But first, let’s discuss some basics. A few basic legal / political premises:

  • Most forests in Canada is “crown land” – technically (theoretically) owned by the government of Canada, but held for the people
  • In Canada, under the Constitution, the provinces have jurisdiction over forests (Constitution Act, 1867, s. 92(5))
  • The federal government has traditionally conducted forest research through the Canadian Forest Service
  • Most forests in Canada are also subject to Indigenous rights and title, whether through treaty or the lack of a treaty (inherent rights)

Some scientific premises:

And a few premises about our current state of affairs

What is the solution in relation to forests? Since growing trees fix carbon, an easy place to start is massive tree planting programs. It would be even better if that included fruit, nut, and seed bearing trees, and ensures forests are designed for hydrological stability and fire resistance.

This would have include the end of deforestation and forest degradation, and an end to the cutting of old-growth and high productivity rainforests – including on Canada’s west coast. Deforestation and forest degradation currently accounts for 30% of carbon emissions. A tall order, but every step towards it counts.

These things are no-brainers, it’s an easy way to stop liquidating carbon and start pulling it out of the atmosphere. The Jane Goodall Institute has done a lot of work on creating awareness regarding the power within forests to deal with climate change.

A simple step is to mandate that all forestry companies that manage public lands through tenures, contracts or other means ensure their lands are fully stocked, ie – covered in growing trees. And a national tree-planting program to fill in every available space, including those which are not suitable for timber. Some scrubland plants are actually excellent carbon-sequesters, and can be planted on lands which are not managed for timber.

The next is to assign some smart foresters and scientists to sort out the details on what is the best mix of species to plant in each area to maximise carbon sequestration, ecosystem benefits, hydrological balance, and timber production.

Is there legal authority to do this? Yes. Provinces and the feds control most forest land in Canada, to a degree. First Nations / Indigenous Peoples also exert more and more control over the land. The best practice for dealing with land use decisions, and to deal with climate change, is to implement UNDRIP, particularly the veto. This is the same in all post-colonial countries.

Are there contracts in place with forestry companies which could prevent fast action or rapid changes to the forestry sector? Yes, there are. How can they be dealt with? Buy outs, agreements, and where that doesn’t work – expropriate those rights or deal with them by legislation.

Could we be sued under NAFTA and other trade agreements for expropriating rights or unilaterally revising contracts of foreign-owned corporations or individuals? Possibly. But there are ways to deal with that too, which will be the subject of yet another post.

In summary – forests are a powerful tool to deal with climate change. Considering the lack of meaningful change so far in relation to forestry powerful legal tools may have to be used to gain the climate benefits which are possible. Change may be difficult, but is not impossible, and the legal obstacles are surmountable. Will we find the will?





New climate laws.. (here’s your political platform)

A recent article in Nature, “Rules for a safe climate,” is helpful for the notion that we need new rules to come out of Katowice, but it doesn’t really give much in the way of new ideas for rules or laws in relation to solving the climate crisis. In response to Greta Thunberg’s call for new rules, mentioned in a  previous post, here are a few ideas.

Many people treat this problem as if some bad weather is on the way, so before people start with the “yeah, buts”, this is the context: emissions continue to rise, human survival is at stake, and the rules we have are not working.

So we need a whole raft of new laws and revisions. Here are some initial thoughts:

  1. Revamp environmental assessments to prioritise climate change and remove exemptions from the process;
  2. Reallocate fossil fuel subsidies to clean energy subsidies in short order. This will create new employment;
  3. The federal government has traditionally done forest research – research must be done on how to create massive tree planting programs for carbon-sequestration, food production, biodiversity, and fire resistance;
  4. And until that is done massive tree-planting programs need to be started – for carbon sequestration, food and fire resistance;
  5. We need to push for hard targets internationally, and severe penalties for failure to meet them;
  6. Criminal liability for serious acts related to climate change;
  7. New powers to expropriate intellectual property in the national and human interest where technology is not shared willingly (like Tesla did);
  8. Strict laws banning designed obsolescence. This is not brand new, but still has a long way to go in gaining traction;
  9. Free public transportation. Luxembourg has done this, we can too; and
  10. Increase stumpage and royalties for forestry and oil and gas in order to cover costs above.

In the interests of “brainstorming” the “politically feasible” calculus has been removed from this process. In order to come up with new ideas you have to agree not to shut them down at the earliest stage. Flesh them out first, and then assess their viability. That will be food for future posts.

Just a few ideas to start..

Can governments declare a “Climate Emergency”?

We can thank Donald Trump for this question, which should have been obvious. “Can a country invoke legislation designed for emergencies regarding climate change?” He raised the issue of emergencies in relation to his pet-project the “border wall.” But, as many pointed out, the real emergency is our global climate. This post will focus on Canada, but the ideas are likely roughly transferable to other nation-states (although there could be substantial differences in powers granted under emergency legislation and how that fits with constitutional structures).

Do we have legislation which can grant broad powers to the government to deal with emergencies? In Canada the answer is yes, yes we do. The Emergencies Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. 22 (4th Supp.)) was passed in 1988, replacing the War Measures Act.

The Emergencies Act is a federal piece of legislation designed to deal with national emergencies, or emergencies which the provinces are not able to deal with. There is wording in the Emergencies Act which makes it clear that it should not be used if less drastic means would work instead (s. 3).

There are other limits on the powers granted under the Act. One is that Parliament must review any declaration made under the Act by Cabinet, and the other is that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms still applies, and s. 1 (justification of infringement) is the only tool to violate Charter rights.

The key part for our purposes, the “Public Welfare Emergency” is found in s. 5. It is defined as:

public welfare emergency means an emergency that is caused by a real or imminent

(a) fire, flood, drought, storm, earthquake or other natural phenomenon,

(b) disease in human beings, animals or plants, or

(c) accident or pollution

and that results or may result in a danger to life or property, social disruption or a breakdown in the flow of essential goods, services or resources, so serious as to be a national emergency. (bolding added).

Climate change seems to fit that description, at least generally. But, is it acute enough yet? And is it necessary?

On the one hand all we’ve had is some big fires, a bit of heat, and a minute rise in sea level. And we’ve also had some storms which seem bad, but were really only marginally worse than we’ve had in the past, and may pale in comparison to storms to come in the foreseeable future.

On the other hand, according to the World’s leading climate scientists we have eleven years to roll back our carbon footprint significantly. That’s not much time. Even more ominously, many scientists argue that once we hit a tipping point where warming initiates other changes which also accelerate warming, such as melting tundra releasing carbon, and the oceans ceasing to absorb carbon, there is no way to stop the terrifying negative impacts of climate change.

That’s pretty acute, despite life generally carrying on as it has. But maybe not acute enough, and this is simply something to consider for the future.

Is using the Emergencies Act necessary? In other words, how would it, or could it, help? There are two considerations here, one is what is needed to resolve the crisis, and the other is what powers are granted under the Emergencies Act?

As far as what is needed is concerned, the imagination is the limit, But we know some fundamentals – cut fossils fuel use, plant trees, build a renewable energy industry and increase research and development in this area.

What powers are granted for Public Welfare Emergency? They are listed in section 8.

8 (1) While a declaration of a public welfare emergency is in effect, the Governor in Council may make such orders or regulations with respect to the following matters as the Governor in Council believes, on reasonable grounds, are necessary for dealing with the emergency:

(a)the regulation or prohibition of travel to, from or within any specified area, where necessary for the protection of the health or safety of individuals;

(b)the evacuation of persons and the removal of personal property from any specified area and the making of arrangements for the adequate care and protection of the persons and property;

(c)the requisition, use or disposition of property;

(d)the authorization of or direction to any person, or any person of a class of persons, to render essential services of a type that that person, or a person of that class, is competent to provide and the provision of reasonable compensation in respect of services so rendered;

(e)the regulation of the distribution and availability of essential goods, services and resources;

(f)the authorization and making of emergency payments;

(g)the establishment of emergency shelters and hospitals;

(h)the assessment of damage to any works or undertakings and the repair, replacement or restoration thereof;

(i)the assessment of damage to the environment and the elimination or alleviation of the damage; and

(j)the imposition

(i)on summary conviction, of a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both that fine and imprisonment, or

(ii)on indictment, of a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both that fine and imprisonment,

for contravention of any order or regulation made under this section.

A particularly fitting section is 8(i). But others could possibly be used too.

Another interesting section is 8(c), which could possibly be used to seize oil and gas assets, pay for them, and start to shut them down, as well as fund massive renewable energy projects. It could possibly also be used to seize intellectual property related to renewables, with fair market compensation.

Could the Act be used to jump-start the building of a renewable energy industry? It could possibly work for that, but is not really suitable. There are probably more appropriate measures. But, it may depend on how much further down the wrong road we go.

Could sections 8(d, e and f) be used to fund a massive national tree-planting/employment project? Planting fast growing and food-producing trees in all available green space in Canada might become necessary if we get to 2025, are having major disasters, and it’s clear we are headed for a cliff.

It is most well-suited, however, to a genuine climate-caused emergency, such as a massive winter storm with extensive power outages, tsunamis, abrupt sea level rise, flooding and fire. In that case it would be used for the more standard response – shelter, medication, relief efforts, the supplying of food and water. But tree-planting or other actions could be part of that emergency declaration if climate change was clearly connected to it, in order to do everything necessary to prevent the next. Parliament would need to be on board, and any infringement of rights would have to be justifiable under the appropriate legal test (the Oakes test).

For now it’s food for thought. Hopefully we will not need to revisit this post any time soon.



Today’s bankruptcy case means buyer beware for climate-impacting investments

An important bankruptcy case came down today from the Supreme Court of Canada, Orphan Well Association v. Grant Thornton Ltd. It is about who pays to clean up contaminated properties when the owner goes bankrupt. It made a lot of headlines, like “Supreme Court of Canada says bankrupt energy companies must clean up old oil, gas wells before paying off creditors,” and will impact how people do business in Canada.

It’s great news for the environment, this has been a massive loophole for years where, in the worst instances, companies could hive off contaminated properties to smaller companies, or sell them to smaller high-risk companies, and then let them go bankrupt, leaving no-one to clean up the mess, but the taxpayer. This has been going on in both the states and Canada, in the oil & gas sector and others.

The broader issue was described well by Tori Crawford in her 2014 prize-winning student paper,

The idea that Canada’s insolvency regime and environmental regulations are often in tension is hardly a novel one. At the root of this conflict are a number of competing policy objectives: protecting the public’s interest in a safe and clean environment, preventing companies from treating insolvency as a “regulatory car wash”, and allowing debtors to obtain a fresh start by either restructuring or discharging their debts.

In other words, bankruptcy courts play a balancing act between discharging the bankrupt, paying creditors, and protecting the public. Until today the balance was often found in prioritising paying creditors over protecting the public, as far as the environment is concerned.

But, the court was clear today that “bankruptcy is not a license to ignore rules..” .

So, how does that affect liability for climate change damage? Of which there is potentially plenty in just the last month, including 11 deaths so far from the polar vortex, world-heritage old-growth rainforests burning in Tasmania, mass death of wild horses in Australia due to a heat wave, and a confirmation from the Pentagon that climate change leads to more wars and refugees. And it’s also important to note that so far the costs of dealing with climate-impacts have been borne by the impacted and the taxpayer, if they have been dealt with at all.

But right now businesses are not really liable for climate damage, at least in practice. One could easily argue that there is currently no liability for businesses regarding climate change. However, the rules are changing there too.

A recent article in Insurance Business Magazine noted that the risks regarding climate change are changing for businesses. The article notes three kinds of risk for business in relation to climate change;

  • Physical risks are those that might impact businesses of all kinds as climate change-related events lead to physical damage to business property, assets or supply chains.
  • Transition risks are those that arise as the worldwide shift to a low or zero carbon economy impacts the finances and valuations of organizations and asset portfolios.
  • Liability risks are faced by those alleged to be responsible for (for example) contributing to climate change, or failing to avert, minimize, or report on physical or transition risks.

The third is the key here, and there is lots of discussion out there on the topic. The rules are changing. So, when the SCC said today, “bankruptcy is not a license to ignore rules,” what will that mean as the rules adapt to climate-impact liability?

Well, if the rule becomes that companies are potentially liable for climate-impacts, then their liability will extend to within the bankruptcy process, and could take priority over  creditors. Climate litigation is growing exponentially, and this case opens up the possibility of going after the assets of bankrupt companies, and, again, critically –  getting priority over creditors.

If climate litigants actually take that course, or even if they do not, it should be a red-flag and lead potential investors to more fully explore any climate-impact liabilities of companies and assets before purchase or investment.

Buyer beware!

What can cities do about climate change?(Part 2, Sue)

And.. continuing from the last post, with another step that Cities can take to do something about climate change..

6. Sue people

Litigation is always a last resort, but is becoming more popular in relation to climate change.

To start, despite the disclaimer which is generally part of this site, (that it is not legal advice), here is some free legal advice no lawyer minds giving: “You’re probably going to lose, and it’s going to cost a lot of money.” That said, you may contribute to saving the global ecosystem and human civilisation.

And although the current legal culture favours business over the environment, specifically climate change, that will change. And every case will contribute to that. Eventually people, and cities, will start to win.

Let’s look at some examples. New York announced a few years ago they were suing Big Oil over climate change. They lost in their first run at it, the “first instance.”

The judge, Judge Keenan, wrote that while climate change “is a fact of life, as is not contested by Defendants. The serious problems caused thereby are not for the judiciary to ameliorate. Global warming and solutions thereto must be addressed by the two other branches of government.” What he means is – not the courts, but instead the US House (Senate and Congress) and the Office of the President (seriously). This is the written decision.

However, New York has appealed, filing materials in November of 2018, with briefs to be filed on February 7th, 2019 (you’ll find an update here as soon as they’re available). Five amicus briefs were also filed in November in support of New York.

In the appeal New York is arguing that they do have a common law cause of action to reallocate the costs of climate change, that federal law should not displace the common law, and that dealing with climate change through the courts does not displace the president’s ability to conduct foreign policy. It will be interesting to see how it goes at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Updates can be found here, at the incredibly handy Columbia Law School Sabin Center climate change case-law database.

San Francisco, Oakland have also filed suits, as have many others. In an article titled, “[d]espite two dismissals, climate liability lawsuits only just getting started,” Dana Drugmond writes,

When two federal judges dismissed climate liability lawsuits by San Francisco, Oakland and New York City, it wasn’t the end of the road for those suits or others of their kind. But it did highlight the importance to the cities of having these kinds of cases tried in state court.

All three cities plan to appeal, sending their cases into federal appeals courts. The other cases filed around the country were filed in state courts and are in pitched battles to stay out of the federal court system, which is exactly where the fossil fuel industry wants them.

There was a lot of fuss late last year about an unclear announcement that Whistler, BC, was suing a specific oil company. It was later clarified that they were not, highlighting the risks of unclear announcements, and the potential for serious backlash.

Most recently Victoria, BC, has announced that they voted 8-1 in favour of asking the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) to examine the possibility of initiating a class-action lawsuit on the basis that the impacts of climate change have already resulted in substantial costs for local B.C. governments.

The city of Vancouver may face a similar motion in the near future, but would follow the example of London, UK, where a “climate emergency” declaration was made. British Columbia’s West Coast Environmental Law is working with cities on the campaign.

Closing thoughts..

In the course of writing these two posts on cities it’s been reassuring to see how much is going on. It could also cause one to reflect on the strength of civic democracy, and what the world would look like in regards to climate change if national democracies were equally sensitive to people’s will.

This circles back to the first post on this blog, on the Rule of Law (more to come on that), and circles forward to contemplating strengthening democracy as a way to fight climate change. Is it as simple as getting money out of politics? Although a good start, there is probably more to it..

What can cities do about climate change? A lot. (Part 1)

Why would municipalities want to take action on climate change? Most coastal cities will be impacted, and some more than others (like New York). In 2017 it was predicted that a 3 degree rise would lead to many cites being drowned, however, more recent information shows that considerably less warming could do the same thing. We’re currently at about 1 degree warming and Greenland ice sheets are already melting four times faster than they were, and we’ve possibly already reached a tipping point on their loss.  This is fuelling a risk of serious sea level rise in just the next twenty years – up to 5 meters even if we stay below 2 degrees..

And sea level rise flooding isn’t the only risk, other towns and cities may burn to the ground, such as Paradise, California, Fort McMurray, Alberta, or simply run out of water, such as Cape Town, South Africa.

Considering the risks, and the fact that federal and provincial/state governments that seem to be stuck in 1972, municipalities may wish to do something about it. It’s also a way that individuals can take effective climate action – by running for local municipal office and getting your municipality to take action. Or convincing your municipality to take action.

There are quite a few things towns and cities can do about climate change. Here are a few:

1. Make public transportation free

Making public transportation free doesn’t just cut down on people’s expenses, it is a strong incentive to use public transit instead of your own vehicle. That can represent a huge reduction in emissions. Luxembourg has done so, as a way to deal with climate change.

2. Buy electric buses 

Every five weeks China is building enough electric buses to be London’s fleet. A few years ago this was viewed as a joke, but now is taken much more seriously. Of course it would be most effective to combine this with the point above – by making your electric buses free to the public.

3. Buy electric vehicles and install charging stations.

The IPCC report  has called the transition to electric vehicles a “powerful measure to decarbonize short-distance vehicles.” Austin, Texas, is planning to change their 330-car fleet to electric over the next three years. Pittsburgh is doing the same, and also installing solar-powered charging stations.

Many cities have charging stations, but Kingston Ontario may be leading the way in Canada with a commitment to the electrification of transportation in the city.

4. Go renewable and set goal of being carbon-neutral

On this front a republican mayor in Texas has led the charge, and gotten a lot of attention, for running completely on renewables, wind and solar. Dale Ross, the mayor, says, “[i]n Georgetown, we make our decisions based on the facts.” The decision to go with renewables was made purely on the basis of economic reasoning.

Bristol and Manchester, UK, have set goals of being carbon neutral in 2030, and 2038, respectively. London has set a similar goal as part of their climate emergency declaration. This follows similar steps by several US cities.

Another great way to reduce a city’s carbon footprint, from Portland OR, is to generate its own power through city water pipes. This may also take the prize for innovation.

5. Divest

Divestment from fossil fuel investments is a powerful tool that many cities have used to some degree. A group called C40 Cities has brought cities together to deal with climate change, and many of those listed in this article are part of it. As part of that C40 Cities has sought to accelerate fossil fuel divestment.

New York and London Mayors have put out a public call for divestment, and many cities have answered that call. As part of that London has committed to divesting pension funds from fossil fuels.

More to come in Part 2..

A positive precedent? The Canadian federal government purchase of the TransMountain Pipeline project..

In order to deal with the climate change crisis we will need significant projects. Those will likely include power projects such as huge solar power grids, tidal power, wind power, and more. But it will also include things which may not be profitable or power-generating, such as carbon sequestration, massive-scale tree planting, seeding the oceans, or who-knows-what-else.

To date little has happened on the scale required. Although it really hasn’t been a big part of public discourse, the underlying assumption which has led to a lack of discussion seems to be that it’s “not possible” for governments to invest in “things that business should do,” like power projects, etc.

A neo-liberal worldview has gotten in our way, at a very inconvenient time. In its simpler form is a presumption that government cannot spend 4.5 billion dollars on something as fanciful as a wind farm. And another 4.5 billion on solar panels all over southern Alberta (built and maintained by former oil-patch workers), and another 4.5 billion on planting trees (trees which are wind firm, as fire and drought resistant as possible, and supply some food).

But that is all a lie. The Canadian federal government have graciously shown us, by spending 4.5 billion in taxpayer dollars to buy an outdated pipeline and a project which may never be built, that in fact they could do all of those things, and more.

The feds have shown us that government money can be used to buy businesses, or for major projects, which are in the public interest. What could be more in the public interest than the survival of our children? It could fit under a number of federal heads of Constitutional power, including “peace, order and good government.”

The fact is, we could easily use government money to transition to a low-carbon economy. There is no legal barrier to doing so.

A recent article in the Guardian posited, “What if Canada had spent $200bn on wind energy instead of oil?” The answer is, of course, that we would be much further along in addressing our climate change commitments and protecting our future. And that is just on those numbers alone, and not the spin-off industries which would inevitably result from the government spending 200 billion on wind energy.

The 200 billion figure on which the article is based is the amount of government money that has been invested in the Alberta oil sands since 1999. But instead of looking at the past, we should look at the future and ask,” what if we stopped oil and gas subsidies today, as the Trudeau liberals pledged, and put that money into renewable and natural carbon sequestration?”

2019 – we have 11 years

On October 8, last year, the UN announced we had 12 years to get things on track with meaningful reductions in emissions. Or else face “climate catastrophe.”

What is Canada doing? Canada just bought a pipeline for 4.5 billion, and is using extreme force against aboriginal people trying to stop another one. But – is imposing a federal carbon tax on provinces that don’t have one, for what it’s worth. As of a week ago emissions continue to rise in British Columbia, a Canadian province with a supposedly good carbon tax.

The USA? Recently (2017) pulled out of the Paris Accord, is appointing climate deniers to top positions, the government is partially shut down, and it’s generally falling apart politically. On the upside there is Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal.

The UK, one of the western nations with the best climate records, having passed the first real climate legislation, and cut emissions “by 43% below 1990 levels in 2017,” is in political free fall, with a confidence vote on the May government tomorrow after a stunning defeat of their poorly thought out Brexit plan.

France? Macron had to step back from his carbon gas tax after riots in the streets by the “yellow vests.” A motion which continues to grow, although it’s not clear if it’s gaining or losing momentum.

We now have 11 years. Although there are a few small glimmers of hope, it’s not looking good. This is where we are.