Linking the crises of Covid-19, racism, environmental justice, and police violence

With thousands of people marching in protests around the world, including in Canada, it is clear that the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis has ignited long-held and deep memories of injustice. Despite the denialism of dinosaurs such as Rex Murphy, most Canadians realize that, as explained in The Tyee, “Canada Has Race-Based Police Violence Too. We Don’t Know How Much”  (June 2).  A current example is the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet   still under investigation after she fell to her death from a high rise apartment,  in the company of Toronto police.  Relating to environmental concerns,  the winter of 2020 saw demonstrations across Canada in support of  Indigenous protestors at the Wet’suwet’en blockades of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, documented in “No Surrender”, in  The Intercept.  In their  2018 book  Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State authors Jeffrey Monaghan and Andrew Crosby examined four prominent movements in Canada, including the climate-related struggles against the Northern Gateway Pipeline and the anti-fracking protests surrounding the Elsipogtog First Nation.   A June 3 article, “How Militarizing Police Sets up Protesters as ‘the Enemy’” is highly relevant for Canadian climate and social justice activists – re- published by The Tyee from an article in The Conversation.  

The following selection of recent articles focuses on how policing and social justice intersects with environmental justice in Canada and the U.S. :

‘This is about vulnerability’: Ingrid Waldron on the links between environmental racism and police brutality” in The Narwhal (June 3) summarizes an interview with Professor Ingrid Walton, associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, head of the ENRICH Project that tracks environmental inequality among communities of colour in Nova Scotia, and the author of the 2018 book,  There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities. In the interview, Walton raises the January 2020 closure of the Northern Pulp mill in Pictou, Nova Scotia as an example of environmental racism – the Mi’kmaq First Nations community had been calling for decades to stop the discharge of toxic effluent into Boat Harbour , but Walton argues that action took so long  because “closing the mill was  a risk for white people in power who were profiting from these industries. …With police violence, it’s similar. It’s different, but it’s similar in that the physical and emotional impacts on Black bodies are not the kinds of things white people care about.”

wetsuwetenEmilee Gilpin, journalist and managing director of the First Nations Forward Special Reports series at the National Observer, writes an eloquent Opinion piece: “If life before this was ‘normal,’ I don’t want to go back” (June 1) . Emphasizing the need for solutions, she concludes:

“I want to live in a world where the murder of innocent Black boys and men is not a normalized reality, where Indigenous women do not get murdered or go missing and turned into a statistic, where reconciliation means reparation, where people aren’t shot with rubber bullets and tear gas for demanding accountability and change, and where every system of power is representative of the society it’s meant to serve.

I want to live in a world that listens and respects the natural world, rather than trying to dominate, colonize and control it. I want to live in a world where diverse worldviews and ways of being are celebrated, and where at the very least, at the very very least, everyone has the right to BREATHE.”

Berta-Caceres-770x470In “Racism, police violence and the climate are not separate issues” in The New Yorker,  Bill McKibben states: “The job of people who care about the future—which is another way of saying the environmentalists—is to let everyone breathe easier. But that simply can’t happen without all kinds of change. Some of it looks like solar panels for rooftops, and some of it looks like radically reimagined police forces. All of it is hitched together.” His article reports on an interview with Nina Lakhani, an environmental-justice reporter for The Guardian, who discusses her new book, “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet”  – the indigenous environmental activist in Honduras, killed for her opposition to a hydroelectric dam in 2015.

Why Racial Justice is Climate Justice” in Grist (June 4) compiles the comments of five environmental justice leaders in the U.S.: Adrien Salazar, Senior campaign strategist for climate equity at Dēmos, New York; Kerene Tayloe, Director of federal legislative affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, Washington, D.C.; Julian Brave NoiseCat,  VP of policy and strategy at Data for Progress, Washington, D.C.; Mariah Gladstone, Founder of IndigiKitchen, on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana; and  Alvaro S. Sanchez: Environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute, Oakland. From the article:

“We now know that coronavirus — much like police brutality, mass incarceration, and climate change — is not colorblind. It’s not that the virus itself differentiates by race, but, as with other crises, the factors that make communities of color more susceptible to it are shaped by the United States’ long history of discriminatory policies and practices.

Many of the places that have been dealt the harshest blow by COVID-19 are simultaneously dealing with other serious threats to residents’ well-being. Even under the cover of the pandemic, environmental rollbacks and pipeline plans continue to threaten the health of people of color.”

One recent study which links the environmental links to Covid-19 death rates was conducted by the T.H Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University – summarized by the New York Times in April).  Two subsequent blogs from Data for Progress expand that focus to include the links to race and environmental justice: on May 6, “In Georgia, Coronavirus and Environmental Racism Combine”, and on May 19 “The Bronx Is An Epicenter for Coronavirus and Environmental Injustice “.    Among the alarming statistics: “Data from the New York City Department of Health finds that the asthma hospitalization rate for children in the Bronx is 70 percent higher than the rest of NYC and 700 percent higher than the rest of New York State, excluding New York City.”

On May 27,  the CBC reported on the “hot spots” of Covid incidence in the Greater Toronto area, corresponding to low income neighbourhoods with high density.  Ontario data collection and transparency has been widely criticized.

How is the environmental movement responding to calls for racial justice?

Responding to protests, green groups reckon with a racist past” in Grist (June 1)    reviews the performance of  U.S. environmental groups: “The League of Conservation VotersEarthjustice350.org, and the Sierra Club also issued statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and vowing to work towards racial justice. “There is no just recovery for climate, without addressing the systemic extraction, harm and violence towards Black communities,” said 350.org in a statement on its website.”

An Open Letter  sent to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights includes environmental groups among the 446 signatory groups. The letter begins: “we urge you to take swift and decisive legislative action in response to ongoing fatal police killings and other violence against Black people across our country.”  Environmental groups signing on include: Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, NextGen America, and the Sierra Club.

Black environmentalists talk about climate change and anti-racism” in the New York Times (June 3). This article summarizes interviews with three U.S. environmental activists:   Sam Grant,  executive director of MN350.org,  (Minnesota affiliate of 350.org); Robert D. Bullard , professor at Texas Southern University and a expert who has written about environmental racism for more than 30 years; and Heather McGhee,  a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group, and the author of a forthcoming book called “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.”

“An anti-racist climate movement … should be led by “a real multiracial coalition that endorses environmental justice principles” and its goals should seek to uplift the most vulnerable. That means,… the creation of green jobs, rather than cap-and-trade policies that allow companies to keep polluting in communities of color as they have been able to do for decades….. Success is measured by the improvement in the environmental and economic health of the people who have borne the brunt of our carbon economy.”

 

 

 

 

Alberta oil and gas voices calling for innovation while Newfoundland’s Hibernia workers face layoffs on June 12

Alberta’s Minister of  Energy, Sonya Savage outraged many Canadians with her comments on May 25  that the Covid-19 pandemic offers a “great time to build pipelines” because of the lack of protestors , and construction on the TransMountain pipeline began in Kamloops B.C.  on June 2.  Yet,  Max Fawcett, former editor of Oil and Gas magazine writes in a CBC Opinion piece, “Alberta could be fighting its last pipeline battle”   (May 27), stating:

“It will be difficult for a government that prides itself on its willingness to fight for one vision of the oil and gas industry to adapt to this rapidly changing landscape…..It will be tempting for it to continue railing against the federal government, environmental activists, and all of its other enemies, foreign and domestic. And if Biden wins the White House, and follows through on his pledge to cancel Keystone XL’s presidential permit, that temptation may prove overwhelming.

But the ground has shifted under the Government of Alberta’s feet, just as it has for all of us, due to COVID-19.

The sooner it comes to terms with that, and helps the rest of Alberta do the same, the better.”

Fawcett also criticized the Alberta government of Jason Kenney in  “Still waiting for Alberta to get the memo on climate-conscious investing”,   commenting  on the implications of the Norway’s Government Pension Fund decision to divest from Canadian oil and gas companies  because of their excessive climate impacts. Fawcett  calls for Alberta to tell a “more honest story”.

Notably, voices from Canada’s oil sands industry “Establishment” are also speaking out and signalling a shift in attitude.   On June 1, as part of the  Climate Knights Planning for a Green Recovery series, Mark Little, the CEO of Suncor Energy and Laura Kilcrease, CEO of the government agency Alberta Innovates  wrote an OpEd titled, “Canada’s oil sands are best positioned to lead the energy transformation”.  Hearkening back to the 1970’s in Canada and citing a 2019 BNP Parabas report on the declining future of oil , they acknowledge the inevitable coming transition with this:

“While Canadian oil and gas will remain a significant part of the global energy mix for some time, we have to take advantage of new opportunities that offer attractive growth prospects. The temporary economic lockdown triggered by the 2020 pandemic is giving us a glimpse into a not-too-distant future where the transformation of our energy system could disrupt demand on a similar scale. Disruption breeds opportunity and forward-looking companies and countries will need to step up and lead.

Now is the time to take a big step forward. As the history of the oil sands reveals, disruption and transformation are nothing new for Albertans and we’re optimistic that the Canadian energy industry is up to the challenge and best positioned to invest in and lead energy transformation.”

Industry response to the joint OpEd appears in “Suncor, Alberta Innovates op-ed a game-changer as oil and gas industry finally embraces energy transition” appeared  in EnergiMedia (June 2).  noting “ ….. it cannot be a coincidence that the same day the op-ed was published, Alberta finance minister Travis Toews told Postmedia that the Alberta government is preparing an economic recovery plan that will focus on diversifying “various industry sectors that we know have a great future in the province, certainly energy and agriculture as you would expect.”

Layoffs in June as Newfoundland’s Hibernia and offshore oil industry in crisis 

offshore rigOn June 3, CBC reported “Hibernia layoffs about to begin ‘with heavy hearts,’ drilling company says” , summarizing the announcement by Hibernia Management Development Corporation (HMDC) that it will suspend drilling operations starting June 12, as a cost-cutting measure in response to a collapse in oil prices.  The 18-month suspension of drilling  had already been announced in April , even before the negative impacts on demand by the COVID-19 pandemic.   The total number of layoffs may approach 600 members of  Unifor Local 2121 , which represents workers at  the Hibernia offshore installation and also at the affected Terra Nova FPSO vessel.  According to Article 32 of the current collective agreement  , six months’ written notice was required “In the event of platform closure, partial platform closure, technological change or restructuring, which will involve permanent reduction of regular rotation employees….”

These developments are the latest in a series of setbacks which constitute a crisis for the oil and gas industry in Newfoundland, summarized in  in “How a pandemic and production war thrashed one of N.L.’s 4 producing oil fields” (May 20) . The political lobbying for federal funds is described in “N.L. oil industry, former premier, rally behind MP Seamus O’Regan in quest for federal help”  (May 14)  and a Canadian Press article “N.L. warns of exodus of oil and gas industry without more federal help”  (May 26).

On June 4, the provincial government of Newfoundland announced  a “New Regional Assessment Process Protects the Environment and Shortens Timelines for Exploration Drilling Program Approval”  which  reverses a 2010 decision and places authority for exploration approval back with the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (C-NLOPB), rather than the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). Calling the drilling of offshore exploration wells a “low impact activity”, the press release promises a faster approval process which “allows the province to become more globally competitive while maintaining a strong and effective environmental regulatory regime.”   This comes a week after the government-appointed  Wilderness and Ecological Reserves Advisory Council released their long-delayed report, A Home for Nature   which proposes  32 protected areas and a framework for ecological protection on land and offshore.

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, author of “Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries”, awarded the Charles Taylor Prize

Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, was awarded  the 2020 Charles Taylor Prize for Excellence in Policy Research, as announced on May 28.  Marjorie’s research has focused on the intersection of gender and sexuality issues, as well as climate and labour policy.  Amongst her many publications, Marjorie authored “Does Gender Matter in the Political Economy of Work and Climate Justice?”  in 2011 as part of the Work in a Warming World research project, the predecessor to the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces project.  Along with John Calvert, she also authored “Climate Change and Labour in the Energy Sector”, as a Gender book coverchapter in  Climate@Work  in 2013. In 2017, Marjorie edited the path-breaking Climate Change and Gender in Rich Countries, published by Routledge.

Over her career, Marjorie has served on several boards and commissions in British Columbia, including as the first Chair of the B.C. chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C. (which she helped to establish).  The Charles Taylor Prize, normally awarded at the Broadbent Institute Progress Summit, could not be delivered in person, but Marjorie’s acceptance speech is available on YouTube .  In it, she discusses her work as the Chair of the B.C. Fair Wages Commission from 2017-2018, which contributed directly to the  increase in the provincial minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Notably, the same YouTube video  also includes a speech by Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Action Network – Canada, who was awarded the 2020 Jack Layton Progress Prize for her international leadership on climate policy and action.

Both awards represent welcome recognition of the increasing importance of climate change research in public policy.

EU €750 billion Recovery Plan announced to mixed reaction

In a speech before the European Parliament on May 27, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced an updated seven-year €1 trillion budget proposal and a €750 billion recovery plan for the European Union, focused on a green and digital economy.  Europe’s moment: Repair and Prepare for the next generation describes the major structure of the plan,  accompanied by  a 5-page Fact Sheet  which highlights “Next Generation EU”, the new recovery instrument.

The EU recovery strategy affirms a commitment to a European Green Deal and promises:

  • “A massive renovation wave of our buildings and infrastructure and a more circular economy, bringing local jobs;
  • Rolling out renewable energy projects, especially wind, solar and kick-starting a clean hydrogen economy in Europe;
  • Cleaner transport and logistics, including the installation of one million charging points for electric vehicles and a boost for rail travel and clean mobility in our cities and regions;
  • Strengthening the Just Transition Fund to support re-skilling, helping businesses create new economic opportunities.
  • Also, recovery goals include a short-term European Unemployment Reinsurance Scheme (SURE) will provide €100 billion to support workers and businesses;
  • A Skills Agenda for Europe and a Digital Education Action Plan will ensure digital skills for all EU citizens;
  • Fair minimum wages and binding pay transparency measures will help vulnerable workers, particularly women”;

Some European reactions to the proposals are compiled in the summary article “‘Do no harm’: EU recovery fund has green strings attached ” in Euractiv . More negative views come from  Climate Action Network Europe, which  calls the proposals “greenwashing” and in a more detailed press release  states:  “Despite repeated commitments by the European Commission to make the European Green Deal the blueprint of the recovery, the proposal still allows for money to be spent on supporting fossil fuels and is lifting climate spending targets in regional development funding, while the climate emergency would need a rapid phase-out of these polluting fuels and strong climate earmarking.”  

Friends of the Earth Europe had earlier released their own proposals for a European recovery plan, here ,  and reacted to the EU announcement on May 27 with  EU Recovery Package falls short of Building Back Better – which states:

“today’s package would not prevent investments in new fossil fuel infrastructure nor put conditions on bailing out polluting industries like airlines – leaving a gaping hole in achieving the aims of the European Green Deal. Nor are there conditions related to compliance with human rights, not paying out dividends, or buy-back of shares for companies that receive funding. …… The plan gives significant political support to the development of hydrogen, without stipulating that this comes from renewable electricity alone. This could open the door to more climate-damaging fossil fuels in our energy system. The Commission will direct welcome financial support to renovating buildings, creating jobs and cutting carbon; this will need to be backed by legislation to reduce energy poverty and ensure every home in Europe meets minimum efficiency standards. Friends of the Earth welcomes an increase in funds for the Just Transition Fund, and the focus on jobs and skills.”

In  “’Defining moment’ as EU executive pushes for €500bn in grants (May 27) The Guardian summarizes the proposals and focuses on the political fight ahead amongst EU members: For example, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, (a group called the “frugal four”), who want recovery funding to take the form of loans, not grants.  The potential financial and political wrangling is also the focus of the New York Times article, ” A €750 Billion Virus Recovery Plan Thrusts Europe Into a New Frontier” .  The Energy Mix  reported on North American reaction to a version of the EU proposals leaked by Bloomberg, in “EU’S massive green recovery plan includes 15-GW renewables tender, support for green hydrogen” (May 24).

CLC, TUC publish visions for post-Covid just economic recovery; new campaign launches

On May 25, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC)  posted  Labour’s Vision for Economic Recovery . Rejecting austerity-thinking, the CLC guiding principles call for government action which focuses on getting Canadians back to work and fully employed in decently paid, productive jobs, based on labour market planning, coordination and concerted government action. Priorities include protection for worker health and safety, including mental health, in the return to work. The CLC also introduces a calls for a Green Youth Job Guarantee: “Following the experience of the European Union, the federal, provincial and territorial governments should establish a guarantee that all young people under the age of 25 will receive a good-quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving formal education…. This could include a Green Youth Corps providing decent jobs in renewable energy, land remediation and restoration, climate adaptation, building retrofits and sustainable transportation. Additionally, it should include green skills training and learning opportunities. The Green Youth Corps would target marginalized, low-income and at-risk youth in urban centres, as well as in rural and isolated communities.”

Labour’s Vision also calls for public investment in physical, social and green infrastructure, and on renewal and expansion of public services. “Green industrial policy and sector strategies, anchored in union-management dialogue, should provide the framework for expanded investment in manufacturing capacity, skills training and workforce development.” Labour’s Vision concludes: …” It is time to address the precarity, poor working conditions and wage discrimination in sectors dominated by women, including care work, retail and health services. This work is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and economy.”  More broadly, it calls for reform of Canada’s long term care sector, accelerating universal pharmacare, and fair taxation.

The CLC, along with other unions and social justice and climate action groups, endorsed the Just Recovery for All campaign launched on May 25. The campaign calls for a fair and just recovery from COVID-19 through relief and stimulus packages based on these six foundation principals:  Put people’s health and well-being first; Strengthen the social safety net and provide relief directly to people; Prioritize the needs of workers and communities; Build resilience to prevent future crises; Build solidarity and equity across communities, generations, and borders;  and Uphold Indigenous rights and work in partnership with Indigenous peoples.

Regarding the  “Prioritize the needs of workers and communities” principal, the campaign expands with:

  “Support must be distributed in a manner consistent with Indigenous sovereignty, a climate resilient economy, and worker rights, including safe and fair labour standards and a right to unionize. Improved conditions for essential service workers must be maintained beyond this crisis.

Bailout packages must not encourage unqualified handouts, regulatory rollbacks, or regressive subsidies that enrich shareholders or CEOs, particularly those who take advantage of tax havens. These programs must support a just transition away from fossil fuels that creates decent work and leaves no one behind.”

In answer to the question “Why did you call it a “just recovery” and not a “healthy”, “resilient”, or “green” recovery?”, Just Recovery for All  explains: “We were inspired by principles and organizers in the US and internationally who started the idea of principles for a “Just Recovery” we wanted to align ourselves with global allies. We also wanted to lead with the idea that justice – fairness and equity – needed to be part of the focus of the work coming out of COVID.”

Those who have endorsed the Just Recovery campaign are listed here, with union  endorsements  from the Canadian Labour Congress, ACTRA, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, CUPE Local 3903, Confederation des syndicats nationaux, Federation de la sante et des services sociaux,  Syndicate de professionnelles et profesionnels du government du Quebec, and Toronto and York Regional Labour Council, as well as climate/union coalitions including Blue Green Canada, Green Economy Network, Good Jobs for All.  A COVID-19 Yellow Pages lists and summarizes many of the Canadian campaigns currently underway by endorsing organizations.

In the U.K., the Trades Union Congress (TUC) published A Better Recovery on May 20 – like the CLC, rejecting austerity economics and proposing an “investment for growth” approach for post Covid recovery. The report highlights six principles: Decent work (with a higher minimum wage and new collective bargaining rights); Economic stimulus for Just Transition and a low-carbon economy; social security reforms including a job guarantee; rebuilding public services with good jobs in care work; equality at work; new internationalism.  Other TUC articles re Covid-19 are here .

Business is offering advice re Economic Recovery too

Just as unions are advocating for their versions of economic recovery, so are businesses. One such Canadian campaign launched in mid-May and now numbers more than 280 Canadian companies and business organizations.  The Resilient Recovery campaign is a collaboration between Clean Energy Canada and the Canada Cleantech Alliance—calling for direct and immediate investment in Canadian clean energy and clean tech companies.

The Canadian Chamber of Commerce established a Canadian Business Resilience Network to coordinate over 450 chambers of commerce, boards of trade, and business and industry association. In addition to serving their membership, they aspire to “Provide a consistent and reliable flow of accurate, up-to-date, authoritative information; and “Work closely with government to ensure the right supports are in place, and to be a conduit for information from the government to the private sector.”  On May 21, the they released  Reopening Canada’s Economy, A National Guide for Business, “designed to provide guidance, or access to guidance, for business owners and senior managers responsible for re-establishing their operations while ensuring the health and safety of operators, staff, customers and the general public is at the forefront.”

Internationally, on May 19 the  Science Based Targets initiative, the UN Global Compact, and the We Mean Business coalition issued a joint press release titled: “Over 150 global corporations urge world leaders for net-zero recovery from COVID-19” . Their signed statement  urges governments “to prioritize a faster and fairer transition from a grey to a green economy by aligning policies and recovery plans with the latest climate science…..We must move beyond business-as-usual and work together in solidarity to deliver the greatest impact for people, prosperity and the planet.”  The 150 companies who signed on to the statement are from 33 different countries, but only two are Canadian:  Arc’teryx Equipment , SkyPower Global .

(The Science Based Targets initiative is a collaboration between CDP, the UN Global Compact, World Resources Institute and WWF, and  independently assesses and validates corporate climate targets against the latest climate science. It includes 885 companies which are taking some science-based climate action and 373 companies whose targets have been approved by the SBTi.)