StarWise – April 2018

photo of Mac MacLaughlin

STARWISE
by Mac McLaughlin

Mercury and Saturn square off for the whole month of April, ratcheting up all kinds of tension in the markets and governments throughout the land. Mercury rules communication, travel, negotiations, contracts, agreements and all things to do with business and commerce. Saturn usually slows things down, forcing us to grind our way through as we sort out just what to do. With Mercury-ruled Trump at the helm of the “Good Ship Lollipop,” who knows what could go wrong? Trade wars – and hopefully not other wars. Gun law protests, oh yeah, and we know the rest. Here in the northland, we have the provinces bickering about laying pipe, with protests galore, and a million other concerns dogging us throughout the days. Fiery Mars throws his hat into the ring as he mixes it up with Mercury and Saturn in the first half of the month, which will certainly throw fuel onto the fire, later joining up with his heavy, older, much darker brother Pluto for the last half of the month. When Mars and Pluto meet up, they can cast a fairly dark shadow as this combination is well known to represent violence and all other kinds of machinations of a nefarious type.

April begins and ends with full Moon energy, which will help illuminate our concerns. Jupiter brings a stabilizing influence as he harmonizes with Pluto and Mars, hopefully bringing wiser and calmer minds onto the scene. We certainly do need the visionaries to step up now. Venus travels through Taurus for most of the month; she rules that sign, which is good news for us in the sense she will bring stability, order and harmony. In a sense, all things get balanced and worked out and onward we march through time. Although it sounds somewhat ominous, it’s really pretty average planetary drama. It has always been and always will be this way, until the dawning of the Golden Age when the moat is removed from our eyes. We will then be able to see we are all one people on one planet, all brothers and sisters and all one family, including all life forms, deserving of respect, kindness and gentleness. We are digging our graves with our teeth. We continue to assassinate and consume other life forms (animals) that have souls and we continue to fail to see the grave and serious karmic repercussions of this behaviour. We cry out for peace, but never give it.

Mac McLaughlin has been a practising, professional astrologer for more than four decades. His popular Straight Stars column ran in Vancouver’s largest weekly newspaper for 11 years. Email mac@macsstars.com or call 604-731-1109.

Aries ZodiacARIES Mar 21 – Apr 19
You are a diamond in the rough, multi-faceted, merely needing some polishing and training. April offers up all kinds of opportunities to do just that. Anything that is of true value never comes easy. Meet the challenge by choosing what to do and then get at it. Surprises and changes are in the works.

Taurus ZodiacTAURUS Apr 20 – May 21
April 17 is your magic day in which magical experiences take place. The Sun enters Taurus on April 19, bringing you into your solar high of the year. Venus visits Taurus nearly all month while she harmonizes with Mars and Saturn, bringing opportunities for stability, romance and finance. Put your best hoof forward now.

Gemini ZodiacGEMINI May 22 – Jun 20
Lord Mercury finally gets himself straightened out after his three-week retrograded phase, which ends on April 15. Or does it? Well, not quite. He still has to get up to speed and he’s still in lockstep with Saturn, which indicates you will be learning valuable lessons. Patience, honesty and humility will do nicely.

CancerCANCER Jun 21 – Jul 22
You’re one of the big wheels in astrology. Cancer, Aries, Libra and Capricorn are the four Cardinal signs of the zodiac, meaning they carry more authority, energy and dynamism. Leadership roles carry big responsibilities. April 20 to 22 provides myriad opportunities to test your ability to handle pressure under fire. You can prove your worth now.

Leo ZodiacLEO Jul 23 – Aug 22
You may be dreaming of new career ventures and possibly other adventures such as travel and spiritual endeavours. All well and good; it costs nothing to dream. But in the meantime, there may be serious house cleaning to be tackled, which you may loathe, but it’s not going to go away on its own.

Virgo ZodiacVIRGO Aug 23 – Sep 22
The stars are leaning in your favour, but it’s not completely favourable as there is serious work to be done. In Virgo’s world, it means getting to the fine details such as taxes and other accounting scenarios. Speaking of accounting, it might go way deeper such as taking account of your inner values and spiritual progress.

Libra ZodiacLIBRA Sep 23 – Oct 22
You are in your solar low until April 19, which isn’t a bad thing. If anything, it offers up opportunities to get your life in order. You may be hard at work and working through myriad problems and concerns. Say what you mean and mean what you say and say it with kindness and sweetness.

Scorpio ZodiacSCORPIO Oct 23 – Nov 21
Starting April 19, the stars offer up a time of reflection and introspection until mid-May. Venus casts her energy your way throughout April bringing a time to weigh up what is real and of most value to you. You might be in the mood to make significant changes to your lifestyle and daily habits.

Sagittaurus ZodiacSAGITTARIUS Nov 22 – Dec 21
Sagittarius types are known for their broad-stroke capacity to weigh up a situation and deal with it effectively. They are the archers of the zodiac and they must take careful aim before they release their arrow. One part broad view, one part deeply attentive. Now you must use both skills in order to be successful.

Capricorn ZodiacCAPRICORN Dec 22 – Jan 19
A big planetary focus takes place as Mars and Saturn join up in Capricorn, bringing action, tension and frustration in the first half of the month. With Mercury in square with Mars and Saturn, it is highly likely there will be sticks in the spokes, delays and other concerns that will need delicate handling.

Aquarius ZodiacAQUARIUS Jan 20 – Feb 19
Aquarius is the ambassador of goodwill and you are wise and fair in your judgements. That type of impartiality will be needed in the coming weeks as the planetary drama is destined to get ratcheted up a few notches. We’ll need cool heads to prevail and that’s where you come in. Much is accomplished behind the scenes.

Pisces ZodiacPISCES Feb 20 – Mar 20
Never doubt your value and remember that if you don’t promote yourself, the world never will. Now is a time in which you must take stock of what is important to you and move forward towards your goals. You have the gift of the collective wisdom of the other eleven signs of the zodiac.

Website-blocking is a path to censorship

photo of Marie Aspiazu

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by Marie Aspiazu

Now Back in September, we were shocked by Bell Canada’s overreaching proposal to introduce a mandatory website blocking system with no judicial oversight and radical new copyright rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is currently being renegotiated. Not long after, rumours surfaced that Bell was planning a similar proposal at home via the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

And this January, just when we thought we’d seen it all, Bell went full throttle and spearheaded a coalition of over 25 organizations calling itself “FairPlay Canada,” including Cineplex and the CBC. This coalition has formally requested the CRTC to consider creating a website-blocking agency.

Bell’s proposal is problematic because creating a censorship committee within the federal government has a huge potential to open the floodgates to widespread Internet censorship. Website blocking schemes often result in over-blocking, as seen in the UK, where gay-teen support sites are being added to its ever growing list of blocked websites. So if this proposal goes through, it won’t be long before legitimate content and even services like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) become the coalition’s next targets. FairPlay Canada’s proposal is an attack on Canadians’ right to free expression and our robust Net Neutrality rules that Minister Navdeep Bains and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have both expressed strong support for.

Bell’s foundations for its website blocking proposal prove rather weak. Canada is already home to some of the toughest anti-piracy laws in the world and recent reports indicate piracy rates are declining as people are rapidly shifting to legal alternatives. Plus, data shows online streaming services like Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music are thriving, demonstrating that people are willing to pay for affordable access to the content they want to watch.

But Bell seems to be telling different stories depending on its needs. On one hand, Bell is trying to convince the CRTC that piracy is a big problem in need of a radical “solution,” emphasizing how it’s leading people to cut the cord on their pricy cable packages. Simultaneously, Bell is emphasizing the success of its TV and online streaming services before business analysts, with no mention of the former.

This proposal from Bell is just one more example of the ways that Canada’s vertically integrated telecommunications companies are trampling on our Internet rights in favour of their concentrated media interests. Except, in this case, their plan won’t even help put money back into their TV assets. It’s time for Bell, and its partners, to ensure their content is available where Canadians want to watch it: online. If they offer it it, Canadians will pay.

OpenMedia has been pushing back against Bell’s censorship proposal since it first tried to sneak it into NAFTA and we will not back down. We are currently collecting comments against Bell coalition’s proposal, which we will be submitting as part of the CRTC’s comment period (ending March 29, 2018). People can also submit their comments directly to the CRTC’s we9bsite. Follow OpenMedia on Facebook and Twitter for the latest developments on Bell coalition’s proposal.

Marie Aspiazu is a campaigner and social media specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Renewable communities offer energy jobs and hope

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Anishinaabe economist and writer Winona LaDuke identifies two types of economies, grounded in different ways of seeing. Speaking in Vancouver recently, she characterized one as an “extreme extractive economy” fed by exploitation of people and nature. The second is a “regenerative economy” based on an understanding of the land and our relationship to it.

We now go to extremes to access fossil fuels. Hydraulic fracturing shatters bedrock to release previously inaccessible gas, requiring large amounts of water made so toxic through the process that it must be disposed of in deep wells. We extract bitumen from Alberta’s oilsands using techniques that emit more than twice as many greenhouse gases as average North American crudes. The Pembina Institute reports that 1.3 trillion litres of fluid tailings have accumulated in open ponds in Northern Alberta since oilsands operations started in 1967.

We need new options. We must innovate and create jobs in a regenerative economy.

In her talk, LaDuke said, “The reality is that the next economy requires re-localization of food and energy systems, because it’s more efficient, it’s more responsible, it employs your people and you eat better.”

Re-localization is happening in communities across Canada.

The David Suzuki Foundation’s new, nationwide Charged Up program (davidsuzuki.org/chargedup) is collecting stories to help inspire people to take on renewable energy projects in their communities.

In Oxford County, Ontario, local farmers, community members, the Six Nations of the Grand River and Prowind Canada launched Gunn’s Hill Wind Farm in 2016. It produces enough electricity to power almost 7,000 homes.

Oxford County became the second local government in Canada, after Vancouver, to adopt a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Gunn’s Hill makes up 15 percent of Oxford County’s goal.

Indigenous communities are also innovating and leading on renewables.

Chief Patrick Michell of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in BC says meeting energy needs in concert with nature resonates with his nation’s values. Nlaka’pamux is working toward food and energy self-sufficiency. The Kanaka Bar Indian Band, one of 17 bands in the nation, has solar projects and has partnered with Innergex Renewable Energy and others on a run-of-river project to generate power and income.

“What you do to the land, you do to yourself,” Michell says, quoting a traditional saying.

He says his people have been food and energy self-sufficient for thousands of years, but recently his community has seen changes in weather patterns, water flows, precipitation, forest fires and ecosystems, often related to climate change.

LaDuke says, “Keep your eye on where you’re going. Operate not out of a place of fear, but a place of hope.” Good advice for us all, as we celebrate the efforts of these communities and look to put the lessons they’ve learned into action across Canada.

Let’s focus on hope. On climate solutions. On renewable energy led by communities like Oxford County, Kanaka Bar and others rising to the challenge to create a regenerative economy for everyone.

Excerpted from the original article. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Community Renewable Energy Program Lead Sherry Yano. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Dairy-free and well nourished!

photo of Vesanto Melina

NUTRISPEAK
by Vesanto Melina

There are many good reasons to embrace a diary-free diet:

Human health: Most of the world’s population has some degree of lactase insufficiency or lactose intolerance after the age of weaning and milk protein is one of the top allergens. The environment: Pleasant, pastoral scenes don’t show the environmental damage from cattle to riverbanks, air, water and wildlife. Legislation is taking shape, with strong opposition, requiring large California dairies to apply for air permits. Manure: “A single dairy cow produces about 120 pounds of wet manure per day, which is equivalent to the waste produced by 20–40 people.” – Environmental Protection Agency. Manure overflows and passes into groundwater and pathogens make people sick. Concern for cows: Cows are managed in order to get peak milk production and then slaughtered when they can’t perform as “Supercows.” This generally occurs at less than one quarter of their natural life span. At that point, they typically become burgers. And rest assured; the phrase “humane slaughter” makes no sense at all. Workers: Those who slaughter, butcher and process cows have intensified exposure to infectious animal materials, including Staph aureus.

Yet cow’s milk has been a significant source of calcium and vitamin D, an additive in fluid milk. So how else can we get these nutrients? Calcium: In Paleothic times, calcium intakes were far greater than that of today. Yet the sources were not dairy products and meat is not a calcium source. It was mostly attibuted to their very high intake of plant foods. Green vegetables: Calcium is extremely well absorbed from certain leafy greens (kale, napa cabbage, bok choy, Chinese greens, broccoli, okra, turnip and mustard greens). Spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard are not in this category, as their calcium is bound by oxalate and mainly unavailable. Fruits: Oranges, figs and calcium-enriched orange juice are the superstars in this food group. Seeds and nuts: Almonds, sesame seeds and butters from these, such as sesame tahini, provide this mineral. Black beans, white beans and calcium-set tofu: These are rich in calcium. When buying tofu, look for calcium on the ingredient list. Non-dairy beverages are fortified with calcium. To get the intended amount, you must shake the package! Some breakfast cereals and tortillas.

Here’s an example of how to get a day’s supply of over 1,000 mg calcium:
Breakfast: Oat cereal, 1 c: 27mg / Blueberries, 1 c: 9mg / Fortified non-dairy milk, 1 c: 300mg / Walnuts, 3 tbsp: 21mg.
Lunch: Pita, 1 with hummus, ½ c: 70mg / Kale salad, 2 c: 274mg / Fresh orange, 1: 71mg.
Dinner: Tofu, 4 oz in a stir-fry with Chinese greens, peppers, snow peas, broccoli, 3 c: 250mg or much more. / Brown rice, 1 c: 20mg / Non-dairy yogurt, 1/2 c: 98mg.

Total calcium: 1,140mg

Vitamin D: We need vitamin D for calcium absorption and retention. North of the 49th parallel, however, we get negligible sunlight to stimulate our body’s own vitamin D production. Solution? Take 1000 IU (25 mcg) of vitamin D. For seniors, double this.

Food solutions: How do we get delicious foods and beverages without a drop of dairy? Vegan Supply (www.vegansupply.ca) and Daiya (www.daiyafoods.com) offer some outstanding alternatives.

Vesanto Melina is a Vancouver dietitian and co-author of the award winning Becoming Vegan: Comprehensive Edition and other books. www.nutrispeak.com

EVENT

March 10 Meatless Meetup: 7:15pm. To attend, register at www.meetup.com/MeatlessMeetup/events/247568687/

Healthcare poverty and inequity in the developing world

Neglected people, overlooked diseases

DRUG BUST
by Alan Cassels

Inequity. It’s a damnable word, a cruel word. A word that characterizes the most distasteful, egregious thing that we humans tolerate – namely, the very inequitable way human health is distributed across our planet. One part of the world drowns in medicines and potions for the most trivial of ‘diseases’ and conditions while the other part of the world dies for the lack of the most basic of life-sustaining things: clean water, adequate food, basic medicines. Inequity in the world is at the heart of the great divide between those who will live long and productive lives and those who won’t. Inequity is irascible, callous and shameful. It is entirely human-created and its existence diminishes our humanity.

Not only does modern society seem to accept inequity, but our policies also tend to breed it. Even as we delude ourselves with lofty pronouncements and say we are working hard to reduce inequity, in reality, we mostly just tolerate it.

The reality of life for those on the other side of the inequity divide – the world’s poorest countries – is the daily grappling with real epidemics, which leaves nothing extraneous to put towards a health risk that is merely a “potential” emergency. There, several million people die every year from diseases due to poor community hygiene and lack of clean water, in situations where dysentery, cholera and other entirely preventable water-borne diseases wreak an incredible burden of ill health throughout the developing world.

Can we really understand dire poverty in the same way as the inhabitants of poor countries who witness their children dying of diarrhoea for the lack of 25 cents worth of oral rehydration therapy? It is almost as if ‘we’ and ‘they’ lived on separate planets.

Far be it for me to proffer solutions for the most dire problems of planetary inequity, but let me suggest at least two interim suggestions for how Canada and Canadians could work to reduce that inequity: the first serious and the other more glib.

For immediate needs, we need to be creating more toilets.

Before you go thinking that’s the glib answer, consider this: the lack of access to toilets is one of the world’s most dire health emergencies. Many diseases of poverty wouldn’t survive or thrive if proper human sanitation denied them the opportunity to do so. Effective sanitation has long been recognized by physicians and other health experts around the world as the world’s most pressing health issue. Don’t believe me?

More than 11,000 readers of the prestigious British Medical Journal (whose readership consists mostly of physicians) were [once] asked to vote for what they thought were the most important medical advancements in the last 150 years. What won the contest? Antibiotics? Anaesthesia? Vaccines? Nope, nope, nope. Access to clean water and sewage disposal – “the sanitary revolution” – was judged the world’s most important medical achievement.

In her book, The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters, author Rose George notes that access to a toilet is not a laughing matter. It is a matter of life and death. Nearly half the world’s population, or about 2.6 billion people, lack access to a toilet and Rose George notes that nearly 80 percent of the world’s illnesses are caused by fecal matter. Diarrhoea, the key consequence of poor sanitation, is a lethal condition that kills 2.2 million people a year in the developing world – more than AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria.

I thought that such an urgent issue would mean that Canada’s development agency CIDA, which dispenses nearly $3 billion a year in foreign aid, would be a major contributor to the world’s sanitation revolution. I was dead wrong. Canadian taxpayer-funded aid, directed towards solutions that flush, gets almost nothing. In fact, the Global Sanitation Fund, claimed as one of the best global sanitation initiatives in existence, has never seen Canada contribute a single penny. That stinks. And, perhaps most of all, it shows Canadian unwillingness to contribute to what is probably seen in development circles as a very ‘unsexy’ cause. C’mon – saving lives with low-tech, high impact solutions is very, very sexy.

You might say that, after sanitation and clean water, what the poorest of the poor need is access to proper food and medicine. The unique forms of medicine, which would actually address the neglected diseases that afflict the poor most, are almost nowhere to be seen on the pharmaceutical research and development agenda. Again, inequity raises its ugly head and the poorest are left to suffer.

Modern medical science has been missing-in-action for quite a while when it comes to creating new treatments for diseases afflicting the very poor. According to the medical humanitarian group Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), of all new medicines developed between 1975 and 1999, only one percent was developed for tropical neglected diseases and tuberculosis.

So how do we ramp up the investment in the neglected diseases that most affect the poor?

The major impediment to directing resources towards diseases of the poor is the fact that the drug industry is largely uninterested. There’s no money in treating poor people. Some groups, such as the Institute for OneWorldHealth (www.oneworldhealth.org/) and MSF’s “Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative” (www.dndi.org) have recognized this reality and are on the front lines of using both public and private money to develop novel therapies for some of the most common tropical diseases.

While pharma companies understandably want a return on investments in research, the lack of any promising commercial returns for diseases of poverty seriously slows the flow of capital needed to develop and deliver those treatments. When you look at the historical development of tropical disease treatments, many were developed by the simple fact that we (we who inhabit the rich ‘developed’ world) felt threatened. The drugs currently available to prevent and treat malaria emerged out of the American and French experiences in Vietnam, where our scientists were given the resources they needed to create treatments which would keep their soldiers out of harm’s way.

The lesson here seems simple: being in foreign places may not be so good for our soldiers’ health, but it could be good for the development of treatments for infectious diseases that exist primarily in poor countries. When our armed forces are sent abroad, our governments suddenly become seriously interested in investing in researching new treatments.

I am proposing it is high time we started ‘catching’ the same diseases of the poor. Malaria in Southern Alabama? Now here comes some serious antimalarial research. Hmm, maybe that would be a positive side effect to climate change? Tuberculosis outbreak in Toronto? Watch out for the new development of novel antibiotics. Chagas disease in cottage country? Instant research money for that disease.

In terms of one of the world’s biggest killers, malaria, the World Malaria Report (2008) reported there were as many as 247 million cases of malaria across the globe. In light of this epidemic, the drug company GlaxoSmithKline is opening up access to an extensive dataset on 13,500 compounds, which could be potential malaria fighters. These data are on chemical entities that have been tested against the Plasmodium parasite that causes malaria and researchers will use it to help isolate those compounds most likely to work.

These are all very important developments and even as we may one day see research and development for neglected diseases becoming the highest of priorities – and the gross inequity in the health of the world’s population starts to shrink – we shouldn’t just sit here and wait for things to happen.

Let’s get cracking on exporting toilets and importing diseases. While improving access to clean water and sanitation can improve the fundamental building blocks of any healthy nation, let’s see a little more tuberculosis and malaria in North America and stimulate our research enterprises where, at the end of the day, the inequity of healthcare will shrink even further.

Just a thought.

Alan Cassels is the author of numerous books, including The ABCs of Disease Mongering, The Cochrane Collaboration, Selling Sickness and Seeking Sickness.

Charging ahead with car sharing

modo Rav4 hybrid

Photo: Modo CEO Patrick Nangle at the wheel of a Rav4 hybrid. Image courtesy Modo.

Vancouver leads North America with about 3,000 shared vehicles. Now, if it could just electrify the fleet.

by Robert Alstead

Maybe we should have marked it on the calendar? Ten years ago: our personal car-free anniversary. The day we broke free from hefty insurance premiums, maintenance costs and parking fees. Free from the temptation to reach for the car keys when a bike would do. Free to use the precious space that had been liberated in our garage. Free from the responsibility – ecological and economic – that goes along with owning a car.

But then it never really felt like a clean break from motordom. We may have given up our worn-out 1991 Mazda 626, but after putting down $750 for joint membership in car share co-operative Modo, we, along with several thousand others, became owners of a whole fleet of vehicles.

Transportation in this city and province still revolves around cars. As our family has grown over the years from two to three to four, there’s always been the temptation to buy our own.

That we’ve remained car sharers this long is largely down to Vancouver’s increasing cycle friendliness, as well as reasonably good, albeit strained, transit system. Paying as we go with Modo has served us well when combined with our bikealot lifestyles, and the list of other options for those times when we need four wheels has just kept growing: Zipcar, car2go and Evo. Peer to peer Turo (“Airbnb for cars”) recently launched in BC and there’s even a hybrid bike/electric vehicle (EV) share, Veemo, being piloted at UBC. Actually, Veemos are three-wheels, but you get the picture.

Gearing up

When, a decade ago, we joined Modo, or the Co-operative Auto Network as it was known before its brand makeover in 2011, we booked a car over the phone and then retrieved the car key from a secure box at the back of the car. There were slips of paper to fill in with miles driven and gas bought at the beginning and end of every trip. Now, you can book by app, web or phone, in increments of 15 minutes. Trip logging is automated and you key in and out with an electronic, key ring fob. There’s a good variety of vehicles. We now have a 2017 Hyundai Elantra on our block where, until recently, the nearest family sedan was based a five-minute bike ride away. When elderly relatives visit, there’s various minivan options and a pick-up truck down the road is my go-to for lugging furniture. If we don’t drive during the month, we don’t pay anything.

Modo started life 20 years ago as an SFU thesis project with two cars and 16 people in Vancouver’s West End. Today, it has over 50 different vehicle models in a 600-strong fleet spread across Metro Vancouver, in Greater Victoria, Saanich and Nanaimo. The Co-op’s 18,000 members can book anything from an eight-seater Kia Sedona mini van in Fairfield, Victoria, to a 2017 Toyota Prius V at Vancouver City Hall, a 2015 orange Scion coupe at Lafarge Lake-Douglas SkyTrain in Coquitlam or a Nissan frontier truck outside Surrey City Hall.

It’s not perfect. Don’t try last-minute booking that seven-person mini van at long weekends. Plus, the two-way carshare model, exemplified by Modo and its counterpart Zipcar, where you have to return the car back to its home location at your pre-chosen time, can seem inflexible.

Modo’s fees have also been creeping up; in the last year, they went from $4 an hour and $0.40 per kilometre to $5 an hour and $0.25 for Modo Plus (i.e. shareholding) members.

“A price change is a pretty soul searching exercise here,” says Patrick Nangle, former CEO of Purolator who, as new Modo CEO, brought in new rates in August. “It’s the last thing ever we want to do because of our value proposition. Affordability is top of the list.”

Nangle defends the new pricing structure as necessary to cover basic operating costs, for better quality cars and better maintenance of vehicles so they’re not scratched and dented. They’re also cleaned more often.

Certainly, for occasional drivers like us, carsharing still means thousands of dollars a year saved over solo ownership, while enjoying the benefits of a diverse and regularly updated fleet of vehicles. There’s also those carsharing perks: being able to park in resident-only spaces, not having to worry about insurance and gas or changing the winter tires. It’s covered.

What’s more, Modo’s day rates, up to 250 km over 24 hours for $80, with taxes included, are hard to beat and the winter season overnight rates, from 7pm to 9am of $12.50 plus $0.25 per km, are a gift for night owls.

“We are a co-operative. We are owned by the members. It is sharing in the truest sense of the word,” says Nangle, in his small office in a tower opposite the Waterfront Skytrain station on Granville Street. “So we run the business just to break even and a little bit more than that. We’re not trying to make a big profit.”

Nangle is keen to press home Modo is not always the best option. He welcomes new entrants on Vancouver’s carsharing scene, seeing them as “complementary” rather than competition, and stresses that sustainability is part of the bottom line. While his wife needs the family Volvo to get to work, Nangle himself buses and bikes to work when he can. “We advocate very strongly in Modo to walk, ride your bike, use the bus first. If you need to use a car, use a shared car. But don’t take a car as your default choice to go three blocks to buy some milk.”

Are you going one way?

evo car share
Robert Alstead phot

Sometimes you don’t want to return a car to its original starting point as with the Modo two-way model. “Floating” or “one-way” car shares car2go and Evo, which launched in Vancouver in 2011 and 2015, have gone some way to filling the gaps, particularly as they grow their Vancouver fleets and expand the geo-fenced “home” areas in which their cars operate. The one-way carshare model is ideal for urban trips: going to a restaurant, cinema or ball game. You can book any free car via an app, drive to your destination and walk away.

Vancouver has the largest member base of the 11 North American locations that Daimler-owned car2go operates in, says Tim Krebs, the company’s communications manager. There are 137,000 Vancouver members.

Unlike Modo, with its diverse fleet, car2go’s 1,100 vehicles are a few select models: the familiar Smart cars, as well as more roomier Mercedes-Benz CLA and GLA models.

The car2go home area spans most of Vancouver and North Vancouver, with satellite parking at UBC, BCIT and the Pacific Gateway hotel for airport access. You can go outside the home area, but you must return back home to end your trip.

With BCAA-owned Evo, it’s been a similar story of rapid expansion. “We’ve grown the fleet from 250 to 1,250 in just a short two and a half years,“ says director Tai Silvey. As well as Vancouver, Evo is in New Westminster (since May), North Vancouver and university campuses like UBC, SFU and BCIT. It has satellite parking also at Grouse Mountain and the airport.

Evo’s fleet is 100% comprised of Toyota’s hybrid subcompact, the Prius C, a roomy hatchback that can fit five people and bikes or skis on the roof rack.

You can start an Evo trip using the app or, unlike with car2go, a dedicated keycard, with reservations possible up to half an hour beforehand. Customer support is good and a simple, but useful, feature is the Evo button on the dash to make hands-free calls to customer support.

Which one to join? A lot of people join both as membership fees are negligible and it gives you more driving options. Both companies also have promotions where they waive the sign-up fee and offer free minutes.

From carshare to EV share

car to go car share
Robert Alstead photo

In recent months, a succession of countries have announced they are going to ban conventional fuel combustion engine (ICE) cars, including China, India, the UK, Norway and France. Some cities will call time on gas-fuelled cars even sooner than national governments: Paris is going free from noxious car emissions by 2030, Oslo is turning roads into bike lanes for its 2019 ban and Oxford will phase in its ban, even on road gritters and garbage trucks, between 2020 and 2035.

GM is going all-in on EVs, Shell is buying up charging stations by the tens of thousands, and a rebranded Toyota doesn’t want us to call it a car manufacturer anymore; it’s a “human movement company” now.

Canada may still be pushing dilbit pipelines and its consumers buying bigger vehicles, but it is pricing carbon. At the provincial level, the BC government’s decision to remove bridge tolls may be exacerbating traffic congestion, but some form of mobility pricing is expected to replace it. “Greenest city” Vancouver has joined Paris and 10 other cities in pledging to de-carbonize the “major areas” of their cities.

The trend is clear

Around a quarter of BC’s greenhouse gas emissions are from road transport. Car share operators, who have a frequent turnover of vehicles in their fleets, would seem well-placed to take a chunk out of that. Not everyone can afford to buy a new EV. They probably can afford to share one.

However, there are only three all-electric carshare vehicles in Vancouver: Modo’s 2 Nissan Leafs and a Prius PHEV.

What’s holding us back? Lack of charging stations is the response from all of the car share operators I talked to. “I know the city of Vancouver is taking steps towards increasing their infrastructure, but there’s a long way to go,” says Evo’s Tai Silvey. “We’re very focussed on creating the greenest fleet possible,” he says, adding, “The first step to that in our opinion is hybrid and that’s why we have a fully hybrid fleet.”

Patrick Nangle says Modo has been gathering data on the duty cycle of 40 Modo gas vehicles to build a business case with Fraser Basin Council and West Coast Electric Fleets for evolving its fleet more quickly toward EVs. Currently, 20% of Modo’s fleet is hybrid or electric. “There is some subsidy from provincial government, but it’s still more expensive. We don’t believe people will pay more. So how do we make sure that we get the right level of utilization, the right economics on the car. We want to introduce more. We think it’s the right thing to do,” says Nangle.

Car2go already has exclusively EV fleets in Stuttgart, Amsterdam and Madrid with 1,400 vehicles in total. Yet the company retired its electric Fortwo Smart cars in EV-friendly Portland because the long charges meant the cars were out of rotation for too long. Last year, car2go switched its all-EV fleet in San Diego to gas after a major charging station provider went bankrupt. Parent company Mercedes Benz will be phasing out gasoline Smart cars for electric only, so the trademark tiny car will gradually be replaced in North American car2go fleets by the larger Mercedes GLA and CLA vehicles.

Vancouver has around 250 public, level 2 charging stations and, importantly, as far as hardworking shared cars are concerned, only one DC fast charging station, which the City of Vancouver runs in conjunction with BC Hydro at Empire Fields. Fast charging stations allow for top-ups that take minutes rather than hours, but cost much more to install. BC Hydro has set up 30 fast charging stations across the province since its launch in 2012, with around 27 more being planned as part of “Phase 2” of the fast charge network rollout.

By comparison, Amsterdam, which saw the launch in October of another free-floating, all-electric car share with 100 Hyundai IONIQ EVs, has 2,200 public charging stations with more fast chargers about to go into gas station forecourts.

City of Vancouver climate policy analyst Ian Neville says that Europe’s 220 volt electrical standard versus North America’s 120 volt system makes them a “little more advantaged.” Amsterdam’s municipal government also has more control over land use, which helps when it comes to putting in kerbside charging stations. But Vancouver can learn from Amsterdam’s experience.

“Part of it is it’s hard to predict right now,” says Neville. “We know with autonomous and shared, together that’s going to have a very different impact, but it’s a hard thing to plan infrastructure.”

BC Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has been calling on the provincial government to make it easier for industry to install charging stations and sell electricity. At the moment, businesses must register as a utility to resell electricity or give it away for free as Tesla has done for Tesla owners with its 10 BC Superchargers. “BC Hydro is the single biggest barrier to the introduction of electric vehicles in the province,” says Weaver.

Self-driving, wirelessly charging, shared pods may become common on city streets in the 2020s, but Vancouver’s immediate focus is on fast-charging public stations as well as steadily adding residential charging in new buildings. By 2020, the City expects to have deployed eight to 10 EHubs, which will have DC Fast Charging units plus Level 2 stations for charging over longer periods.

Given what we know about their impact on our climate and health, it’s clear that gasoline vehicles have outstayed their welcome in our cities. We are on the cusp of a huge transition in mobility.

Nangle points out that Metro Vancouver expects 700,000 people over the next 20 years. “At current ratios, they will bring almost half a million cars. So you’ve got this tidal wave of cars coming. So 3,000 shared cars today. I would be happy if it was 10,000. And it won’t be just Modo. It will have to be a combination of different kinds of business models to serve different kinds of needs. And better transit system, and better bike lanes, and, and, and…”

Please see March Common Ground for part two.

Robert Alstead covers transport, technology and climate change at www.icycle.ca

BC Hydro – until debt do us part

dark cloud of debt

by Reimar Kroecher and Eoin Finn

For most of its existence, BC Hydro, a publicly owned utility company, operated on a non-profit basis. Enough revenue was collected to cover costs and its customers benefitted from low rates. If there were any profits, they were reinvested into BC Hydro.

Sometime shortly before Gordon Campell’s Liberals swept into power in 2001, the NDP government had a change of mind and decided to demand a $300-million dividend from BC Hydro. Although criticizing the NDP for this while in opposition, the Liberals collected $5.8 billion in dividends during their stay in power. The Campbell government also dictated that all new power was to be purchased from private producers (IPPs) at rates far above the rates at which BC Hydro could produce it! That squeezed BC Hydro’s finances from two sides: high dividend payments to government and expensive power to be purchased from IPPs.

The obvious way out was to increase electricity rates substantially, but the BC Utility Commission, on orders from the provincial government, approved only modest increases. The members of the commission are government appointees, puppets in the eyes of many researchers. A second way out was to go into debt by selling more BC Hydro bonds. That was also disallowed because as BC Hydro’s debt increases, the triple A rating for all provincial debt could be lost and interest rates might rise as much as one and one-half percent. To get out of this dilemma, BC Hydro decided to introduce “Deferred Expenses” – treating expenses as if they are assets – in its accounts. The easiest way to understand this accounting concept is to look at the example of a house:

Mr. B owns a house and sublets it to Mr. H who rents it out to a large number of Mr. B’s friends. Mr. B does not want any return, so the rents are kept low enough to cover costs and there is no profit for Mr. B. He is happy and his friends like him.

The house is worth $100,000. The mortgage (debt on the house) is $80,000 so Mr. B’s equity is $20,000 ($100,000 minus $80,000) The ratio of debt divided by equity is four to one. The yearly income from the house is $30,000, exactly equal to the yearly expenses.

Now Mr. B has a change of heart and wants a dividend of $4,000 while at the same time the expenses on the house go up to $34,000. “Well,” says Mr. H, “we will increase the rent to collect $38,000 per year and Mr. B will get his $4,000 dividend and I will get $4,000 to cover the extra expenses.” “No,” says Mr. B, “my friends would be unhappy and would not like me anymore.” “Well,” says Mr. H, “we will borrow the money by increasing the mortgage by $8,000.” “No says Mr. B, “the bank would think I am a bad credit risk. My debt to equity ratio is four to one now and it would go higher than four to one;” 88,000 divided by 20,000, which is 4.4.

However, Mr. H has a plan: “We will ditch the internationally accepted accounting standards (IFRS), which don’t allow “Deferred Expenses” and instead use the more permissive American Accounting standards (FASB) which do allow such deferrals.” So here is what they do: they take $10,000 of the expenses and treat them as an investment in the house. They might take the gardening expense and maybe some pressure washing and gutter cleaning and claim that these are really not an expense this year, but improve the value of the house by that much. They also borrow $8,000 from the bank, by increasing the mortgage.

Now the house is worth $110,000, the debt (mortgage) is $88,000, the equity is $22,000 and the debt to equity ratio is four to one; $88,000 divided by $22,000. Clearly, Mr. B’s friends are happy because the rent has not increased. Mr. B is happy because he gets his $4,000 dividend while his debt to equity ratio has not increased. He maintains his AAA credit rating. Mr. H is happy because he can cover the extra expense of $4,000.

Both Mr. B’s dividend of $4,000 and the extra expenses of $4,000 were paid for by increases in the debt, yet the debt to equity ratio did not increase.

In this example Mr. B is the BC government, Mr. H is BC Hydro and Mr. B’s friends are the ratepayers. The house is equivalent to the various assets of BC Hydro. So we see that the dividends the province collected were paid by increases in BC Hydro’s debt. The same applied to its rising expenses. In fact, during the last 10 years, BC Hydro debt went up by some $10 billion, even though no new generating facilities were built. At the same time, using “Deferred Expenses,” the ratio of debt to equity did not go up so the government could continue to claim its annual dividend.

FASB, the American accounting standard, has two conditions: a) Deferred Expenses must be approved by an independent regulator, and b) they may not be deferred longer than 10 years. On government orders, BC Hydro blissfully ignored both of these. Deferred Expenses is an accounting trick that can mask the financial difficulty a company faces. However, it is not the only accounting trick concocted by the previous Liberal government. When BC Hydro requested rate increases of 9% and was only allowed 3%, it was instructed to show in its books what it requested, not what it actually received. So the books show 6% fictitious revenue that was never received!

It should be obvious that, when a company pays both for dividends and rising expenses by increasing its debt, and on top of that creates fictitious revenue it never received, year after year, that company is on a fast track to financial ruin. In BC Hydro’s case, that ruin could be prevented by the following policies:

  • No more dividends to the province for quite a few years.
  • Realistic electricity rate increases that cover expense increases.
  • An end to “cooking” the books and a switch back to internationally-accepted accounting standards. The books of BC Hydro right now are worthy of consideration for the Governor General’s award for fiction.
  • Replacing the current BC Hydro Board of political appointees with a new board of experts, whose mission should be to nurture BC Hydro back to financial health and to manage it in the best interests of ratepayers, not government. This new board must stop political meddling.
  • Cancel Site C.

If it continues on this course, financial insolvency is a near-certainty for BC Hydro, whose financial health will not be improved by borrowing at least another $9 Billion to complete Site C. Spread over the expected 70-year life of the dam, it will have to pay over $20 billion in interest payments on that debt. It must also pay back the borrowed $11 billion and pay the operational and maintenance costs totalling over $9 billion more. All totalled, the revenue from 70 years of power sales must cover at least $41 billion of these costs, excluding dividends to governments. To break even on that investment, it must sell all of Site C’s 5 terawatt-hours of energy at around $120 per megawatt-hour, 50% higher than today’s average consumer rate. But all indications are that there will be no domestic demand at all for this massive amount of extra power and the only option will be to export it at bargain basement prices.

The trifecta of sticky problems with this are that BC’s consumer demand has been decreasing as power rates rise, Alberta’s rates are now far lower than BC’s and wholesale power prices in the US have dipped below $30. If 100% of Site C’s power is to be exported at those prices, losses on the project could well balloon to over $23 billion, or $11,500 out of the pocket of every BC ratepayer. And that’s assuming borrowing rates stay below 4% for the entire 70-year period. Site C is indeed a very large gamble.

As a result of rapidly rising debt with no corresponding increases in real assets, equity will go negative. As that point, BC Hydro will be near-worthless and big, private-sector corporations will pounce and buy it for a pittance. Like vultures in a tree, eying a sick animal, they have been licking their chops for years to get their hands on North America’s best hydro facilities. Once privatized, rates will be set by demand and supply. There will be no publicly-minded utility commission. And the people of the province will have lost one of their best assets and control of our electricity rates.

Eoin Finn is a 40-year Vancouverite, a retired KPMG Management Consulting partner and a contributor to BCUC’s recent Site C review. He holds a Ph.D in Physical Chemistry and an MBA in International Business. Reimar Kroecher, MA in Economics, taught Economics at Langara College for 30 years. He is currently retired and lives in North Vancouver. For more information: citizensforpublicpower.ca

photo montage by Tom Voydh

Dave Barrett: when true socialism shaped BC and made it more beautiful

Dave Barrett

by Bruce mason

Dave Barrett’s recent death has inevitably brought to mind the first-ever NDP Premier’s legacy of brilliant public policies, which helped make BC a better place for everyone, every day, including you and me.

However, today, at least two of his signature policies are threatened. Public auto insurance, ICBC, is wrecked and a write-off. And the Agricultural Land Reserve, designed to protect farmland, is being diminished with the largest-ever removal of farmland by flooding the Peace River Valley for Site C.

In three short years (1972-1975), the Barrett government passed 350+ bills, an average of one every three days.

Barrett and his caucus created the BC Day holiday, Pharmacare and citizens’ right to sue government. They forced politicians to reveal donors, launched a daily question period and were the first to record and publish legislative debate in Hansard (the traditional name for transcripts of parliamentary debates in the British Commonwealth).

They dramatically expanded parkland and halted mining in them, banned pay toilets, put a stop to spanking in schools and jailing 12-year-olds, lowered the drinking age to 19 and enabled neighbourhood pubs. In Vancouver alone, we have the Seabus program, the preserved Orpheum Theatre and Robson Square.

And Barrett accomplished so much more: North America’s strongest labour code, consumer protections, human rights legislation, increased pensions for the elderly, increased support for the disabled, assistance for tenants, higher welfare rates and implementing the highest minimum wage in Canada.

Ninety-seven legacies are listed in The Art of the Impossible: Dave Barrett and the NDP in Power, 1972-1975, by Rod Mickleburgh and Geoff Meggs, who is now NDP chief of staff in the current minority government. In many ways, Barrett was 40 years ahead of his time and, hopefully, we’re now catching up. “None of the things we did, not one, was radical. Not one. And in the light of history that’s even more evident,” Barrett explained.

Dave Barrett was the youngest child of Isadore, a communist, and Sam, a twice-wounded Great War veteran who was gassed at Passchendaele and limped behind a horse-drawn fruit wagon before opening a fruit market on Powell Street in Vancouver. He was also the first Jewish born – albeit educated at Jesuit universities in Seattle and St. Louis – and the first socialist to hold BC’s top elected position. A champion of the little guy, he was an MLA for a quarter-century, an MP for five years and later headed two inquiries into the leaky condo fiasco.

Referred to as “little fat guy” by the press gallery, he self-deprecatingly nicknamed himself “Fat Li’l Dave,” laughingly, saying, “They’ve called me a Marxist. I say, ‘Which one? Groucho, Chico or Harpo?’”

He took off his shoes to jump on the table at a first cabinet meeting, shouting, “Are you here for a good time or a long time?” Revolutionary, compared to the cautious, current NDP, which stresses “affordability “ and “’administration over activism.” In contrast, Barrett bristled at an economic system even he never imagined would cause today’s obscene inequity. Redistributing wealth more equally, rather than consantly growing economy on our finite planet, was his life’s work, which he acted on rather than endlessly study.

Worth recalling is his first trip to Ottawa when Barrett told then-prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, “I didn’t come here to B.S.” A far cry from today’s contrived, polite federal-provincial relationship. Also worth remembering: in 1983 when he was forcibly dragged out of the legislature at 4:30 am for refusing to withdraw a challenge to a Social Credit restraint and austerity program. A first in the 112-year history of the chamber, characterized even now by whipped back-benchers and spineless cabinet members on short leashes.

“In my political career I’ve always been blunt, very blunt. As a consequence, either people love me or they hate me. There’s not much middle ground. That’s really how I operate,” Barrett recalled.

I remember late August in 1972: Watergate, the Arab oil embargo, rampant inflation and reactionary right-wing politics. When TV took over, it was the toy department of journalism. Dave Barrett’s landslide victory was on the tube, everywhere, including a pub where I witnessed folks buying rounds, passing joints and hugging complete strangers, well past closing time.

A few months later, on the evening of the long-awaited day when live music was finally allowed in bars, my band was hired to play music. A few measures into the first song, the bar emptied as people lined up at pay-phones to call friends and family. It was a joyous time, much like the NDP functions I later played at and the live, paid gigs on BC Ferries.

Imagine that. I mention culture because it too matters. And Dave Barrett, deeply rooted in NDP principles, was music to our ears. His honesty, bold vision, unapologetic action and passion gave us the hope and justice we now urgently need to hear and see from BC’s legislature as we run out of time in 2018.

From revolving door to revolution in the patch: an interview with Kevin Taft

by Jeremy Appel

Why are ostensibly environmentally friendly governments, like the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP, still so attached to oil sands extraction, with its disproportionate impact on carbon emissions? Former Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft has an answer in his recent book, Oil’s Deep State (Lorimer, September 2017), and it’s one that many Canadians and Albertans will find unsettling.

Oil's Deep StateTaft argues that the oil and gas industry has developed a stranglehold over federal and provincial governments, as well as large swaths of academia and the media, corroding Canadians’ ability to meaningfully address the threat of climate change. I spoke with Taft about his analysis, how we got to this point and what the future holds for oil’s deep state.

Jeremy Appel: When we hear about the deep state it’s usually a reference to the power elite running the show in Washington, DC, despite Trump’s alleged goal to “drain the swamp” of corporate influence. What do you mean by the term in your book?

Kevin Taft: When I finished the manuscript, the term “deep state” hadn’t hit the popular agenda very much yet. In fact, it was a concern of mine and the publisher’s that the term wouldn’t really resonate with people.

It’s a term that goes back to the 1970s and has been used commonly in Europe, Turkey, the United States and Canada. What’s happened in the US since the Trump election is that the far-right has grabbed and torqued the term “deep state” for their own purposes and that’s what happens with political language, unfortunately.

I tried to bring some theory to the idea of a deep state by connecting it to the notion of capture. There’s a long history of literature studying how democratic institutions get captured by private interests. The question I had is what happens when a whole series of democratic institutions are captured and held by the same private interests?

What happens when the governing party, the opposition party, the regulators, the civil service, universities, for example, are all captured and held by the same private interest? I argue at that point you have a state within a state, which I call a deep state.

JA: How did the non-renewable energy industry get so powerful in Canada in general, and in Alberta in particular?

KT: It was a very slow process in Alberta. The oil industry here has been active for 100 years and gradually built strength. A key variable for Alberta is that we have a comparatively small population, so all of Alberta together has less people than metropolitan Phoenix or Seattle and we own the third largest oil reserves on the planet. This little population of Albertans owns more oil than all of Russia or all of the United States.

It’s an overwhelmingly large resource for such a small population. As that resource is being developed, especially the oil sands, the economic weight of that has bent our democratic society into a warped shape. It gives immense power to the private interests who have managed to gain control of that resource.

It’s very difficult for a government to manage a resource as large as the oil sands without losing control of the resource. I think that the only country who’s done that really effectively is Norway. We had a chance. In his first term or two, Peter Lougheed actually stood up and waged a struggle with the oil industry. He wrestled a lot of control away from the industry and into the hands of the people who actually own the resource, which is the government and people of Alberta.

Those successes of the early Lougheed years began to decline in the later 1980s and Ralph Klein’s election in 1992 led to a compete abdication of control of our oil resources, turning it over to the private sector. We’re going to pay a price for that.

JA: What happened in the intervening years, from Lougheed’s battle with the industry to Klein’s subservience to it?

KT: There was a broad shift in the social-democratic discourse through the 1980s. You had the rise, generally in the English-speaking world, of the right. You had Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US, as well as the Chicago school of economics, who became champions of markets and the private sector.

That was combined with a slowing in Alberta’s economy in the later 1980s and then a very deliberate and successful attempt, starting in the very late ‘80s and through the 1990s, by people in the industry, to take command of the Alberta government. You had, for example, a whole series of energy and finance and other cabinet ministers coming from the oil industry, spending a couple of terms in cabinet and then going back to the industry. It’s no surprise that those people took the royalty and regulatory systems and turned them to the benefit of the industry.

JA: How did your personal experience in Alberta politics inform your analysis?

KT: My experience had a profound shaping of my view. When I left politics [in 2012], I really left it completely. It was a couple of years after I left that I was invited by a university in Australia to give some serious thought to the relationship between fossil fuels and democracy.

As I began reading, thinking and studying the theory, I realized that everywhere I looked, when I was in office, the oil industry was right there. Whether they were lobbying me or when I walked over to the legislature, they’d be lobbying the government, financing the political parties, funding the universities. Everywhere I turned, there would be the oil industry. When you’re in the middle of it, that just seems normal. But after a couple of years away and doing more serious thinking, I realized it was the oil industry that was running Alberta, not the people of Alberta.

We have to remember the interests of the oil industry are not the same as the interests of the people of Alberta. That’s something Peter Lougheed said over and over again. The people of Alberta have to think like owners and we stopped doing that in the early 1990s. We’ve given up one of the most valuable resources on the planet.

JA: More recently, Ed Stelmach attempted to raise royalty rates and the industry responded by shifting its financial support from his PC party to the upstart Wildrose. What does this tell us about the machinations of oil’s deep state?

KT: Behind the scenes, there’s a very well-orchestrated campaign by the oil industry to control the public agenda. The backstory to the rise of the Wildrose party is part of that.

I spend the first two chapters of the book talking about oil lobbyist and former Stephen Harper adviser Bruce Carson’s court case in Ottawa. All the documents, emails, bank statements and minutes tabled lay bare some of the behind-the-scenes efforts and millions of dollars spent by the oil industry to get a grip on the civil service, Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada, the political system, through cabinet ministers and prime ministers, top civil servants, the universities and provincial governments.

Of course, the public would never have a clue that that happened if a court case hadn’t allowed the police to actually seize these documents and computers and present the evidence in court. When I read through all those filings, it’s just stunning to see how systematically the oil industry works to orchestrate the public agenda, whether it’s pipelines, approval of oilsands expansion, undermining environmental initiatives.

This is not random chance. You can trace this back to a core, which is the command centre of the oil deep state in Canada: the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

JA: What’s the way out of this situation?

KT: Change in Alberta is going to be forced from outside. That change is going to come in a few forms. One is that a very rapid shift in energy technology is going to unfold in the next decade. It takes away a good part of the market for Alberta oil, which will unfortunately bring Alberta’s economy to its knees, creating a political crisis in this province.

Another way out is the kind of citizen actions that we’re seeing across the country and around the world: the actions of First Nations, court actions challenging the pipelines and escalating civil disobedience.

Frankly, a form of energy revolution is coming that will put the end to the oil industry, but that’s not going to be clean and tidy. It’s going to be a long and messy process.

Originally published in The Monitor, www.policyalternatives.ca (Jan 2, 2018). Reprinted with permission. Jeremy Appel is a multimedia journalist and currently a reporter/editor with the Medicine Hat News. Kevin Taft is a best-selling author, consultant, speaker and former provincial politician in Alberta, Canada. His latest book is Oil’s Deep State.

Science betrayed: the crime of denial

by Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr. Peter Carter

Climate change denial has been led by industry disinformation, which, according to Merriam-Webster, is “false information deliberately and often covertly spread in order to influence public opinion or obscure the truth.”

A crime against humanity is, according to the Oxford Dictionary, “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

A brief look at the origins of denialism

unprecedented crime book coverIn 2010, a landmark book, Merchants of Doubt, showed how a small group of prominent scientists with connections to politics and industry led disinformation campaigns denying established scientific knowledge about smoking, acid rain, DDT, the ozone layer and global warming.

Written by Dr. Naomi Oreskes, Harvard science historian, and NASA historian Erik Conway, Merchants was reviewed by Bill Buchanan of The Christian Science Monitor as “the most important book of 2010” and by The Guardian’s Robin McKie as “the best science book of the year.” It was followed by the 2014 documentary of the same name, also widely seen and reviewed.

The research showed how the disinformation tactics of the tobacco companies in the 1960s to undermine the scientific link between smoking and lung cancer served as a model for subsequent oil company tactics suppressing climate change science.

Following the U.S. Surgeon General’s landmark report on smoking and lung cancer in 1964, the government legislated warning labels on cigarette packages. But a tobacco company executive from Brown & Williamson had a brainwave: people still wanted to smoke and doubt about the science would give them a ready excuse.

His infamous 1969 memo read: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”

Tobacco industry executives never directly denied the mounting evidence that cigarettes were linked to lung cancer. Instead, they stated publicly that the science was controversial. In this way they managed to delay regulation and lawsuits until the 1990s.

When the global warming science began to emerge in the 1980s, the oil industry employed the same deceptions. The whole focus was now on creating doubt in the minds of the politicians, the media and the public about whether we really know for sure that climate change is a problem. Doubt, as the tobacco industry had learned so profitably, delays action.

When the IPCC was formed in 1988 and began documenting and publicizing the impacts of climate change, the climate disinformation campaign grew more intense. Big Oil employed the same tactics, arguments, vocabulary and PR firms that the tobacco companies had used to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking 25 years earlier.

The American Petroleum Institute convened a Global Climate Science Communications Team in 1998 to devise a plan targeting the media, schools, government officials, Congress and other influential groups.

The team’s mission, exposed in a leaked 1998 memo, was to initiate “a national media relations programme to inform the media about uncertainties in climate science; to generate national, regional and local media on the scientific uncertainties and thereby educate and inform the public, stimulating them to raise questions with policymakers.” They said victory would be achieved when:

  • Average citizens understand (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom.”
  • Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science.
  • Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom.”
  • Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy.
  • Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extent science appears [sic] to be out of touch with reality.

A 2009-2014 study shows that climate change deniers promoting these uncertainties were prominently featured on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business, ABC, CBS, and PBS in a striking number of TV appearances – indeed three years after the publication of Merchants of Doubt. These deniers included the non-climate scientists:

  • Marc Morano (Bachelor PoliSci) from Climate Depot, 30 TV appearances.
  • Tim Phillips (Bachelor PoliSci) from Americans for Prosperity, 7 appearances.
  • Fred Singer (physicist) from the Science and Environmental Policy Project, 8 appearances.
  • James Taylor (lawyer), from the Heartland Institute, 8 appearances.

Although these men lack credentials in climate science and have been widely exposed as imposters, the major cable TV and networks still give them credibility on their free media platforms.

The corporate media has thus given a relatively small group of science deniers with financial connections to the fossil fuel industry immense influence in sowing doubt on the scientific consensus of human-made climate change.

Climate denial propaganda & influence continue to rise

In 2016, the Union of Concerned Scientists reported that “an in-depth analysis of eight leading fossil fuel companies finds that none of them has made a clean break from disinformation on climate science and policy.” The companies included were ArchCoal, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Consol Energy, ExxonMobil, Peabody and Shell. The industry has responded to the spotlight by intensifying propaganda through the agents below.

The Heartland Institute: In March 2017, the Heartland Institute began targeting the nation’s 200,000 science teachers by mailing each a copy of its new book and DVD, Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming. The slick package stated that, even if climate change were real, “it would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”

The Koch Brothers: The multibillionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch are two of the most powerful people in the global oil industry, owning Koch Industries, a $100-billion conglomerate employing 100,000 people in 60 countries. They control 1-2 million acres of Alberta’s tar sands. The Kochs, bigger than either of the Democratic or Republican parties, manipulate both. A major focus of Koch money has been to ensure that no legislation is passed to curb the burning of fossil fuels. The brothers have gained pledges from 170 members of Congress that they will never support a tax on carbon. While attacking legitimate climate scientists, the Kochs were funding prominent pseudo-climate-scientists.

ExxonMobil: In 2015, we learned from its own research that Exxon has known since 1980 that global warming is real. Kert Davies, former research Director of Greenpeace USA, revealed through ExxonSecrets.org that, meanwhile, ExxonMobil’s climate change denial funding totaled at least $33 million during the period 1997-2016. “At least $33 million” because much of the funding has been channeled through dark identity scrubbing groups such as Donors Trust and Donors Capital.

Secret funding by coal companies: In April 2017, Peabody Energy, the country’s largest investor-owned coal company, declared bankruptcy, following Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources. In all three cases, court-ordered disclosures revealed creditors well known as climate science deniers. These included Chris Horner, who regularly disparages climate science on Fox News and has called for investigations of IPCC and NASA scientists.

As Dr. James Hansen had observed in 2012, this is “not an accident. There is a very concerted effort by people who would prefer to see business continue as usual.”

Whitehouse was one of the first in Congress to propose a civil case, similar to the racketeering suit Bill Clinton brought against the tobacco industry, against fossil-fuel companies for deliberately misleading the public on climate science.

Dr. Michael Mann sums it up: “The gulf between scientific opinion and public opinion has been bought with hundreds of millions of dollars of special interest money… The number of lives that will be lost because of the damaging impacts of climate change is in the hundreds of millions; to me, it’s not just a crime against humanity; it’s a crime against the planet.”

Climate change denial as a crime against humanity

As cited earlier, a crime against humanity is “a deliberate act, typically as part of a systematic campaign that causes human suffering or death on a large scale.”

We have established that the decades-long blocking and lying about scientific evidence on the dangers of human-caused global warming has been deliberate. So the question arises, how many people have been, or will be, hurt or killed by climate change?

Many studies have been done over time. To cite a few:

“Climate change is increasing the global burden of disease and in the year 2000 was responsible for more than 150,000 deaths worldwide. Of this disease burden, 88% fell upon children.”

According to a March 2017 report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, “a quarter of Americans can name one way in which climate change is affecting their health. This is seen by physicians across the country.”

A 15-author 2016 report from the U.S. Global Change Research Program warns that people suffering chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, mental illness and obesity are being threatened by climate change.

A global estimate was supplied by an independent report commissioned by 20 countries in 2012 to study the human and economic costs of climate change. The DARA study wrote that it linked 400,000 deaths worldwide to climate change each year, projecting deaths to increase to over 600,000 per year by 2030… Heat waves kill many, to be sure, but global warming also devastates food security, nutrition and water safety. Since mosquitoes and other pests thrive in hot, humid weather, scientists expect diseases like malaria and dengue fever to rise. Floods threaten to contaminate drinking water with bacteria and pollution.

When the report looked at the added health consequences from burning fossil fuels – aside from climate change – the number of deaths jumps from 400,000 to almost five million per year. Carbon-intensive economies see deaths linked to outdoor air pollution, indoor smoke from poor ventilation, occupational hazards and skin cancer.

When disinformation known to be false is systematically used to deny dangerous realities that harm public health and kill millions of people, the deception clearly crosses the line to become a crime against humanity.

Conclusion

The 2014 IPCC 5th assessment Summary for Policy Makers, along with previous IPCC assessments, is solid proof of the unprecedented crime represented by today’s level and rate of increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution. It is definite because policy makers representing all world governments sit on the IPCC Panel and before the assessment can be published, they scrutinize the assessment line-by-line for government approval.

As governments from high-emitting countries continue – against the will of their own citizens and of the nations most vulnerable to climate change – to allow the global climate catastrophe to unfold, they simply cannot say that they did not know. Participation in formulating the IPCC summaries makes the large GHG-polluting national governments undeniably culpable for their continued lack of action to bring about a rapid decline in global emissions.

Not only have they betrayed the IPCC science. While doing so, they have pampered the lucrative fossil fuel industry with trillions of dollars in subsidies worldwide. But worst of all they have failed to protect their citizens – now and for future generations. This is the crime of all time.

Excerpted with permission from Unprecedented Crime: Climate Science Denial and Game Changers for Survival by Elizabeth Woodworth and Dr. Peter Carter (Clarity Press). Elizabeth Woodworth is a writer on climate change science and activism, co-author of Unprecedented Climate Mobilization and co-producer of the COP21 video A Climate Revolution for All. Dr. Peter Carter is founder of the Climate Emergency Institute. He served as an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) fifth climate change assessment in 2014. He is a former family and emergency medicine practitioner.