Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Cast Off Discouragement!

I just watched Gordon Laxer give a talk on his newest book, After the Sands. I haven't read the book yet, but here are my notes from his speech. This is more or less paraphrased with reasonable accuracy (and links!).

I had never heard of Laxer before, but he was the first chair of the Waffle movement in Toronto in 1969 (I'm guessing he's related to James), and he founded the Parkland Institute for education and research for the common good in 1996. In between, he's a Poli Sci prof and writer. He told us that the Paris Climate Accord had some laudable goals, but it left each country to its own to reach those targets. Canada doesn't have much of a plan, so this book is an answer to that, a bold (that word was said a few too many times) path towards a low-carbon future. We have to change our thinking with a new optimism that we can take action that will develop a socially just, sustainable, low-carbon society within two decades. As Francis Moore Lappe said, "It is too late to prevent suffering. Terrible suffering is already with us. But it is not too late for life."

Indigenous Partnerships

I seemed to have picked the right time to venture into teaching an Aboriginal Studies course. It feels like we're at a turning point with our relationships and connections in Canada, and teaching has forced me to learn our history at an accelerated rate. It's embarrassing, of course, that I knew so little before - and still - but I think that will change for the next generation. Things are shifting.

Laxer explained that no environmental victory won in the last thirty years was without indigenous help and leadership. First Nation land claims have become pivotal in environmental battles. Honouring indigenous rights is Canada's best chance to alter the fate of the planet. We need to adopt the worldview of honouring the land we live on instead of using it up for all it's worth.

Environmentally, Trudeau and Notley are Harper Redux (so far)

In Paris, Trudeau assured the world that "Canada is back, my friends," but then he started following Harper's old targets to reduce GHGs to 524 MT by 2030 at a rate of 1.7 MT/year.  For a comparison, both the US and EU plan to reduce emissions by 2.8 MT/year.

Rachel Notley announced her plan for Alberta while standing side by side with CEOs, and they all had big smiles on their faces. It's because Notley's reduction plan targets emissions from power generation and transportation, which together make up 28% of Canada's GHGs. She allowed the tar sands to continue to raise emissions, but the production of oil and gas make up a whopping 45% of GHGs. If the sands are allowed to continue, they'll cancel out all other efforts to reduce. Harper was in the pockets of big oil, and Notley isn't, but she's still intimidated by them, so she's willing to shill for oil. Unfortunately, the message is more effective coming from Notley. Too many environmentalists have relaxed, assured by her lefty stance. By 2030, if the sands continue, they will produce 56% of Canada's GHG emissions.

As an MP, Trudeau voted to pass Jack Layton's carefully drafted bill to cut emissions by 80% by 2050, which was unfortunately stopped by the Harper-stacked Senate. But it was influential enough to be adopted by the G8 in 2009. Notley's plan will gut that dream.

Laxer argues that we have to shut down the tar sands completely within fifteen years.

Energy is a Human Right

We can't let price determine who gets access to energy or the rich will exploit their position. A carbon tax barely affects the wealthy, but can be disastrous for the poor. The richest 10% cause 50% of the emissions, so we need to affect the right people. (However, the richest 10% includes anyone who makes over $25,000 per year, which might not be what you just pictured.) We need to make sure all of Canada is "energy secure." We can do this by using our own energy instead of exporting oil and gas to the US, and then importing 40% of the oil we use. The US has made it clear that if they have a shortage, they'll cut off Canada in a minute. We can't be dependent on others for our own energy. Currently we have no strategic petrol reserves; we've signed away our own resources. We have to reverse these decisions.

The Problems with Pipelines

Pipelines have become controversial due to all the leaks and spills. Conventional oil floats and is relatively easy to skim off the top of water, but bitumen from the tar sands is more dense, and it sinks. It's very difficult to get it out of the water system once it's in there.

Pipelines have run roughshod all over Native lands. "It's not a Native thing; it's a 'protect the Earth' thing." We all should want clean drinking water, so we should all be fighting to stop the pipelines. Because it's too costly to ship by rail, if we can stop pipelines, we can shut down the tar sands.

In the 1950s, pipelines ran east and west to supply all of Canada. But then in the 80s, under NAFTA, they started running north to south, and we started exporting 70% of our oil to the US. In the Energy Proportionality Clause, it says Canada must export the same percentage it had exported in the three years previous to the clause being involked, even if we're running short. Mexico refused to accept that clause, and they got an exemption. But Canada has to give the US first rights.

But then in 2011, Obama stopped the Keystone pipeline due in part to massive protests from US citizens, which makes it less likely that the proportionality clause will be invoked.

We need to ramp up renewable energy sources, phase out energy exports and exports of natural gas. We only have a twelve year supply of natural gas and BC is planning to export it. Alberta is using natural gas to turn bitumen into usable oil. "That's like turning gold into lead for export." We need to phase out electricity exports too. Hydro supplies 60% of our electricity.

We have our own usable energy, particularly from BC, Manitoba, Quebec, and Newfoundland. BC can supply Alberta; Manitoba can supply Saskatchewan; Quebec can supply Ontario (and get Ontario off nuclear); and Newfoundland can supply all of the Maritimes, but it has to get out of the exporting game. I'm hoping his book outlines how to do this; he didn't get into the logistics in his talk.

Political Will

We have the technology today to live without the tar sands, but we just need the political will and a new mindset. The colonialists came and dug up resources here to export them for cash, and we have to get away from that pattern of behaviour.

We're 9th highest GHG emitters in the world, producing twice as much as Norway and three times as much as Sweden per capita, and they're just as northerly as we are. Some argue that there's no point doing anything if China's still emitting so much, but in 2015, 100% of new energy production in China was renewables. China spent three times as much on renewables per capita as Canada last year. By 2020, they'll have enough to power homes and industry for 280 million people (200 GW each of wind and solar), and they're closing 1,000 coal mines this year. We're running out of "but look at China" excuses.

The tar sands employs 2.2 million people, many of whom travel from the other end of the country to get there. Last year 40,000 were laid off, and some were able to make the transition into solar and wind construction near their own cities. It's devastating that people lost their jobs, but we should see the lay offs as an opportunity, as the first step in a low-carbon future. There are more jobs created by green construction than by the tar sands. "A unit of carbon saved makes more jobs than a unit of carbon emitted." And then workers can live in their home communities.

We can do this, and it will make us a better society. We're built with the ingenuity to overcome obstacles, but we get sidetracked or discouraged. We must struggle for our lives, for our children and grandchildren, and for all other living things. We have a new world to create; the time to start is now.

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