The tide is turning on many fronts in the battle against the carbon bullies

Resistance to tar sands pipelines spreading. Tar sands companies mothballing projects. Renewable energy solutions growing

No 1156 Posted by fw, October 1, 2014

“We stand in defense of the land, water, climate and communities against the richest companies on the planet, and a federal and provincial government who are intent on extracting tar sands as quickly as possible regardless of the cost. Working in Alberta, the belly of the tar sands beast, the odds are often overwhelming but, over the past few months, something has changed. The resistance to the tar sands has not only grown in leaps and bounds, it is changing the dynamics of the entire fight.”Mike Hudema

The Battle against the Tar Sands Is About to Change by Mike Hudema, West Coast Native News, September 30, 2014

The fight against the tar sands is a big one.

We stand in defense of the land, water, climate and communities against the richest companies on the planet, and a federal and provincial government who are intent on extracting tar sands as quickly as possible regardless of the cost.

Working in Alberta, the belly of the tar sands beast, the odds are often overwhelming but, over the past few months, something has changed.

The resistance to the tar sands has not only grown in leaps and bounds, it is changing the dynamics of the entire fight.

Last week’s massive People’s Climate March in New York that brought over 400,000 people to the streets of New York, led by climate impacted and Indigenous communities, was just one of many signs of hope that are starting to emerge.

People are standing up to the largest carbon bullies on the planet and we are starting to win.

Here are just a few of the inspiring highlights:

We are winning the major tar sands pipeline fights (not just one, but all of them!)

  • Northern Gateway: Harper may have approved the Northern Gateway tarsands pipeline but it’s never going to be built. The B.C. government doesn’t want it. There may be a B.C.-wide referendum on it. There is a litany of First Nation lawsuits against it. This pipeline is a dead man walking. Even investors think so which is why Enbridge’s share price dropped the two days after there was approval to build it. This pipeline simply won’t happen.
  • Kinder Morgan: This is another big battle but the signs are good we are going to win this one too. The mayor of Burnaby and the mayor of Vancouver are against it and the First Nation opposition is intensifying as well. With the recent Supreme Court decision strengthening First Nation rights to land and title, the future for the Kinder Morgan pipeline doesn’t look good and the City of Burnaby just got an initial victory stopping Kinder Morgan’s surveying operation dead in their tracks.
  • Line 9: Line 9 was dealt a major blow by the city council of South Portland, Maine, the port that Line 9 was hoping to export its tar sands oil to. The council voted six-to-one to ban tar sands oil from its port. This means line 9 has no outlet to the ocean! The City of Montreal also recently came out and said it doesn’t support the project.
  • Keystone XL: This has been a big, lengthy battle but the signs are (knock on wood), if we keep up the pressure, President Obama will deny the project after the U.S. midterms in November. This would be another huge victory so be prepared to party down in Nebraska.
  • Energy East: This proposed tar sands pipeline is just getting started. As the pipeline slowly moves through the process, the opposition to it is getting bigger. The fact this pipeline would stretch from Alberta to New Brunswick means we have a roadmap of resistance to unite people right across Canada who would rather have a clean energy future than a tar sands nightmare.

Growing opposition is already having huge effects not just in protecting communities and the environment from the problems pipelines and/or tankers pose. It’s also hitting the tar sands beast at the source as well. Here are a few examples:

  • Just a few days ago Norwegian owned StatOil mothballed its Corner tar sands project. The multibillion dollar project would have produced 806-million barrels of bitumen and have emitted 482-million metric tons CO2 by 2050, equivalent to one year’s emissions from 101.4-million passenger vehicles. The reasons Statoil gave for the shelving were rising production costs and lack of pipeline capacity.
  • A few months ago, because of how much we are collectively kicking ass on the pipeline front, Total also had to mothball its 11-billion dollar Jocelyn tar sands mine project.

Total and StatOil are not the only ones feeling the hurt.

  • Sunshine oil has had to put its tar sands project on hold because of a drop in investment.
  • Sinopec is also considering backing out of its Northern Lights tar sands project. Check out this incredibly honest quote from an anonymous source within Sinopec, Sinopec “is having trouble with Northern Lights like everybody else. You can’t throw money into a black hole forever.”
  • CNRL is having problems as the recent review into its four ongoing spills showed that their method of extraction was the culprit. This means — at a minimum — that CNRL will have much fewer barrels of tar sands coming out of its operations this year and could have much broader implications for the future of in-situ if we can ramp things up.

While pipelines are being plugged, and projects are being cancelled real solutions are being implemented all over the world:

  • Last week the Rockefeller brothers announced that, together with 49 other foundations, they would be divesting over 50-billion dollars of fossil fuel investment and shift it to clean energy sources.
  • In May, 74 per cent of Germany’s power needs were generated from renewables. That fact alone shows just what’s possible. The 250,000 people Germany employs in its solar PV sector also shows the employment benefits that come from renewable investments. Germany is not alone.
  • The EU has ruled that each country in Europe has to have 30 per cent renewable energy.
  • Bangladesh is installing nearly two new rooftop PV systems every minute – making it the most rapidly growing market for PV in the world.
  • India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced an incredible plan to use solar to supply electricity to over 400-million Indians who currently don’t have it.
  • In the U.S., the vast majority of new electricity is coming from renewables. California and Texas already set solar power records this year. As the price of solar continues to drop, coal fired power plants are being closed. As a show of their commitment to real solutions Keystone XL opponents have built a solar powered barn right in Keystone’s path and have begun re-planting sacred Ponca corn, both as a solution and another sign of just how strong the Cowboy Indian alliance really is.

In Canada, solutions are also starting to take root even without any federal government support.

  • Ontario has emerged as a real solar champion. Ontario’s feed-in tariff has spurred solar investment and propelled the province to be one of North America’s leaders.
  • Despite the Alberta governments tar sands blinders, things are also starting to change here. Fort Chipewyan, one of the communities most heavily hurt by the tar sands, has started investing in solar. Their first panels went up two weeks ago.

It is still a huge fight ahead with fires blazing on many fronts, but we are doing amazing things and gaining a lot of ground on some of the biggest carbon crooks on the planet.

So take heart. The battles are big but, together, with love and courage, we can turn the tide and in many ways we already are. We are writing the future and it will be beautiful. We just need to keep up the pressure to get it here.

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In bold move, Vermont adopts Genuine Progress Indicator, dumps “wrong-headed” Gross Domestic Product measure

Because GPI subtracts environmental costs from economic benefits, policy makers can see ecological limits to economic growth

No 1129 Posted by fw, August 26, 2014

“No doubt many of the legislators and policy makers who supported the state’s adoption of GPI as a better accounting system did not and would not embrace the notion that there are limits to economic growth. But the contrast between new-think and old-think, between finite and infinite planet thinking, between promoting sustainable economic activity and continuing the “growth forever, business-as-usual” mindset can only become clearer with time. As awareness of the GPI and its precepts filters into state decision-making processes, Vermont will find itself increasingly led to develop in ways that are sustainable and that do not damage the delivery of ecosystem services to its citizens. That kind of development will give the state a competitive edge in the region and nation, as it lays a foundation for the sustainable, post-petroleum, post-perpetual-growth economy that must come to the entire planet, in one version or another, sooner or later.”Eric Zency

Conceptual frameworks come and go. Vermont’s interpretation and application of the Genuine Progress Indicator will be the acid test of its effectiveness in transitioning the state to sustainable economic activity over the long term.

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Transformative Common Sense in Vermont by Eric Zencey, The Daly News, August 15, 2014

Chances are that when you hear the phrase “Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy,” you don’t immediately think of dramatic change in the established political-economic order of things. The words don’t seem revolutionary. They certainly don’t call to mind images of furtive guerillas toting rifles or of throngs in public squares using chains and ropes to topple statues. Chances are equally good that unless you hang out with economic development officers or land use planners, you’d have a hard time rounding up a dozen people who’d sit still long enough to hear what a CEDS is, let alone why it might be of interest to them. But despite the dry name, the document recently released by Vermont’s Department of Commerce and Community Development portends a quiet, far-reaching revolution in governance in the Green Mountain State–and perhaps on a larger stage.

The potential for this enormous change is signaled in a short, clear statement from the report’s Executive Summary:

…This CEDS sets out a unique, overarching goal: it proposes to not only grow jobs and wages and increase our Gross Domestic Product, but also to improve the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)…by 5% over baseline over the next five years.

With this language, Vermont becomes the first state to make explicit use of an alternative indicator in setting goals for economic development. The commitment to use the GPI in this way places Vermont in the forefront of a growing national movement to integrate the GPI into social and economic policy. Because GDP-based economic development is so wrong-headed, this commitment is a matter of common sense; and yet, because GDP-based economic development is so deeply woven into the substance and texture of our political economy, using basic common sense here is a powerfully transformative act.

The faults and flaws of GDP as a measure of economic progress are well known and don’t need to be repeated in detail here. It was never intended to serve as a measure of economic wellbeing, and one of the largest problems in using it for that purpose is that it doesn’t subtract environmental damage as a cost of economic development. Instead, it simply ignores these losses as externalities–until and unless money is spent to correct them, at which time the remediation of the cost is transformed, as if magically, into an apparent economic benefit. (This is a macroeconomic instance of what is generally called the broken window fallacy.) Negative environmental externalities occur when economic activity exceeds one of the planet’s local, regional, or global source-and-sink limits and thereby imposes harm, damage, cost or loss on innocent third parties–people who neither produce nor consume the goods whose production damages the environment. (Traditional economists don’t talk of “innocent” third parties when they discuss externalities, but the morally charged language is appropriate. Why should it be acceptable for profit-seekers to impose uncompensated loss on the general public?)

Because these externalities have their origin in ecosystem limits, and GDP treats the externalities as if they didn’t exist, it’s fair to call GDP an infinite planet statistic. Brian Czech has argued recently that what GDP measures best is environmental impact. While GDP isn’t a perfect measure of environmental impact—some of the things we consume cause less environmental damage per dollar than others—it seems a decent proxy, since in general it’s true that the larger the economy in GDP terms, the larger its environmental impact.

In contrast, the Genuine Progress Indicator subtracts environmental and other costs from the ledger, giving a more accurate bottom line. In doing so, GPI applies the principles of double-entry bookkeeping to the economy as a whole. The invention of double entry bookkeeping was a crucial to the growth of capitalism; a business can’t stay in business for long if its managers have no idea how its debits stack up against its credits, how its costs compare to revenues. And what’s true at the micro scale is true, in this instance, at the macro scale: because GDP systematically miscounts costs as benefits, we’re about to go environmentally broke–the entire economy may go out of business as climate change and loss of biodiversity bring dramatic, civilization-threatening change.

There is nothing in the Genuine Progress Indicator that says, explicitly, “there are ecological limits to economic growth.” But because it subtracts environmental costs from economic benefits, the GPI is a finite planet indicator that will, if implemented accurately, lead policy makers to this realization. Consistent, accurate compilation of the GPI will make clear that for any given ecosystem, at some point economic growth that is rooted in that system costs more in ecosystem service losses than it brings in economic gains.

This means that there are limits to the amount of economic production the planet’s ecosystems can support. Obviously, that fact has implications for economic development and the policies that promote it. Foremost among those implications is the necessity of abandoning the traditional “jobs and GDP” focus of development policy. As noble as it may be to aim to assure every aspiring worker the dignity of useful work, and as comforting as it is to think that we can continually add to our national stock of wealth by perpetually growing our national income, neither goal can be accomplished forever (or even, arguably, in the near term) through policies that take GDP growth or job growth as their sole and solitary focus. A commitment to perpetual full employment that is not also connected to an effort to limit population growth is at bottom a commitment to perpetual economic growth, a chimerical ideal. And because GDP so badly miscounts costs and benefits, failing to keep them separate, any policy effort that aims solely at increasing GDP is destined to be fatuous.

In announcing a development goal that is couched in terms of the GPI, Vermont has put itself on a path that will lead away from traditional “jobs and GDP” thinking–though the divergence of the two paths is not yet fully clear to policy makers. (Recall that the CEDS document aims not only at improving the GPI but also to “grow jobs and wages and increase…GDP.”) No doubt many of the legislators and policy makers who supported the state’s adoption of GPI as a better accounting system did not and would not embrace the notion that there are limits to economic growth. But the contrast between new-think and old-think, between finite and infinite planet thinking, between promoting sustainable economic activity and continuing the “growth forever, business-as-usual” mindset can only become clearer with time. As awareness of the GPI and its precepts filters into state decision-making processes, Vermont will find itself increasingly led to develop in ways that are sustainable and that do not damage the delivery of ecosystem services to its citizens. That kind of development will give the state a competitive edge in the region and nation, as it lays a foundation for the sustainable, post-petroleum, post-perpetual-growth economy that must come to the entire planet, in one version or another, sooner or later. (After all, the one thing you can know about an unsustainable system is that it won’t last.) Vermont’s policy use of the GPI is transformative common sense that will make that inevitable transition smoother and less disruptive for all Vermonters.

Eric Zencey, an American author, currently teaches for Empire State College of the State University of New York. He is contributing editor for the North American Review. Zencey lives in Montpelier, Vermont, with his wife, the novelist Kathryn Davis, his cat, Finny, and his Alaskan malamute, Lucy.

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Ontario branch of Canadian Federation of Students votes to join boycott of Israel

300,000 students lead the way where cowering federal politicians dare not follow

Ryerson U president calls on Ontario academic institutions not to “remain complicit” with schools that support “Israeli war crimes”

No 1127 Posted by fw, August 21, 2014

Canadian students vote to join boycott of Israel Published by Redress Information & Analysis, August 21, 2014

Canada may be Israel’s closest lickspittle* state  – more than even the United States – but it would seem that Canada’s youth don’t share their government’s slavish attitude towards the world’s only surviving apartheid state. [*lickspittle – fawning, servile]

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students, representing more than 300,000 university students in the province, has unanimously passed a resolution to boycott Israel.

The website quoted a union executive member, Anna Goldfinch, as saying that the resolution to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (or BDS) Movement in support of Palestine received no opposition at its annual general meeting last weekend.

The resolution, which was submitted by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), “endorses a number of solidarity tactics that have been called for by Palestinian civil society”, she added.

RSU’s president, Rajean Hoilett, was quoted by the Ottawa Citizen as saying that he was calling for the university and colleges in Ontario not to “remain complicit” through investments and ties with academic institutions that support or profit from “Israeli war crimes”.

Everywhere, from Ottawa to Santiago and from Oakland, California, to London, the people are shouting loud and clear, often in defiance of their corrupt governments: no to Israeli crimes and yes to justice for the Palestinian people.

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