Environmental racism in Nova Scotia and calls for changes to Canadian climate change policy

“Environmental Racism and Climate Change: Determinants of Health in Mi’kmaw and African Nova Scotian Communities”  was published in July by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Author  Ingrid Waldron, HOPE Chair in Peace and Health at McMaster University, presents case studies of several communities, based on her nine-year research and advocacy ENRICH project at Dalhousie University.  The article links to the ENRICH Project Map, which locates polluting industries in Nova Scotia, showing the proximity of waste incinerators, waste dumps, thermal generating stations, and pulp and paper mills near Mi’kmaw and African communities. Specific communities described in some detail include historic sites such as the Sydney tar ponds and Africville, as well as lesser-known examples and more current disputes, such as Boat Harbour and the Alton Gas dispute near Shubenacadie.  

These are examples of environmental racism, “the idea that marginalized and racialized communities disproportionately live where they are affected by pollution, contamination, and the impacts of climate change, due to inequitable and unjust policies that are a result of historic and ongoing racism and colonialism.”   Such locations, combined with such “structural determinants” of health as income and employment, come together to make residents more susceptible and sensitive to climate change impacts, and Waldron concludes the article with recommendations for policies to achieve “health equity”.  These include: environmental justice legislation focused on eliminating differential exposure to, and unequal protection from, environmental harms, (such as Bill C-230, the private member’s bill by Lenore Zann). Waldron also states: “ health equity impact assessment must be incorporated into the environmental assessment and approval process to examine and address the cumulative health impacts of environmental racism in Indigenous and Black communities that are outcomes of long-standing social, economic, political, and environmental inequities.”  More broadly, her accompanying blog, states : “To be effective, climate policy must focus on undoing the structural inequities that lead to power imbalances within society and, consequently, differential exposure to climate devastation.”

Global heating, health, earnings, and environmental justice

Most Canadians experienced global heating directly this summer – and in British Columbia, the chief coroner attributed  570 of the 815 sudden deaths during the June extreme heat event to the record-breaking temperatures, as reported by the CBC.   July 2021 was Earth’s hottest month ever recorded, NOAA finds”  (Washington Post, Aug. 13) states that the combined land and ocean-surface temperature in July was 1.67 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average, with North America  2.77 F above average. The IPCC Report released in August includes long-term temperature trends in its overview of the physical impacts of climate change, and makes dire forecasts for the future.

Health, earnings, and environmental justice

Two new medical articles on the theme of heat and health appeared in the prestigious journal The Lancet, and are summarized in  Extreme heat-caused deaths have jumped 74% in the last 30 yearsin  Axios in August.   

Examining the economic impacts on workers, in mid-August the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) released  Too hot to work: Assessing the Threats Climate Change Poses to Outdoor Workers. The UCS report is summarized in  “If we ignore climate change, it will be hell on outdoor workers”  in HuffPost, re-posted by the National Observer on August 24. One of its unique findings: a forecast that  between now and 2065, (assuming no action to reduce global emissions), the exposure to hazardous levels of heat will quadruple, resulting in a potential loss of 10 percent or more of earnings annually for more than 7.1 million US workers.  Economy-wide, this translates into up to $55.4 billion of earnings at risk annually. In Health Costs of Climate Change , published by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices published in June 2021, the estimate for Canada was that the labour productivity impact of higher temperatures is projected as “a loss of 128 million work hours annually by the end of century—the equivalent of 62,000 full-time equivalent workers, at a cost of almost $15 billion.”   

Too Hot to Work counts farm labourers and construction workers, but also truck drivers, delivery and postal workers, firefighters, police, and forestry workers as outdoor workers. Given that  Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino workers disproportionately comprise many U.S. outdoor occupations, the report highlights the environmental justice aspects of extreme heat . This  environmental justice aspect has been described anecdotally by many articles over the summer – notably, in the poignant text and photos of “Postcard From Thermal: Surviving the Climate Gap in Eastern Coachella Valley” (ProPublica, Aug. 17) , which contrasts the living conditions of the wealthy in California, living relatively unaffected, and the real suffering of the mainly immigrant workers who live close by and work on the farms and as service workers.

Colorado Office of Just Transition defers actions for worker protection in new Final Action Plan

In 2019, the State of Colorado established the first state-level Office of Just Transition (OJT)  through House Bill 19-1314 .  As required by that legislation, the OJT  submitted its final Just Transition Action Plan on December 31, 2020, based largely on the Draft Plan submitted by its Just Transition Advisory Committee (JTAC)  in August 2020.  (The structure, mandate, and documentation from the consultation process are  accessible here; an excellent summary is provided by the State press release here .

The December Just Transition Action Plan offers discussion and strategy recommendations organized in three sections: communities; workers; and financing. The estimated cost is $100 million, and the time frame calls for actual closures to finish in 2030. (Perhaps the leisurely schedule will be reviewed in light of events: the Denver Post reported on January 4 that Xcel- Energy announced it will close its Hayden coal plant significantly earlier than planned –  beginning in 2027).  The December Action Plan strategies are dominated by concerns for communities, with six detailed strategies outlined. Recognizing that some communities are more dependent on coal than others, and that average wages are also different across communities, the plan designates four communities as priority Tier One communities, and others as Tier Two communities, as defined in an Appendix. The Hayden plant is located in a Tier One community.

Actions for workers’ benefits, environmental justice are deferred 

Regarding workers, there are 3 action strategies. The Just Transition Advisory Committee made recommendations to provide displaced workers with  temporary benefits related to “wage and health differential” and “wage and health replacement” in  the Draft Plan in August, but the final Plan states: “too much uncertainty remains around cost and scalability for us to feel comfortable advancing this recommendation — especially in the midst of the COVID pandemic and resulting economic downturn.” Instead, the Office for Just Transition:  “will drive a serious process to gain more certainty about costs, scalability, potential sources of funding, and possible alternatives at the state level. And we will engage a broad range of stakeholders in a dialogue about whether the State should implement such a strategy — and how it might do so.” This includes discussions with coal-related employers regarding their willingness to provide severance and retirement benefits.

This Plan also discusses and ultimately deflects and defers responsibility for the environmental justice concerns expressed in the 2019 enabling legislation  , which recognized “a moral commitment” to “the disproportionately impacted communities who have borne the costs of coal power pollution for decades”. This December Plan states: “we agree with the JTAC that these issues are best addressed in that broader context, which is why we are following its suggestion that OJT participate actively in emerging interagency efforts — led largely by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment — rather than creating our own independent (and potentially isolated) approach….. OJT will continue to rely on the advice of the Disproportionately Impacted Communities subcommittee of the JTAC, and it will play as active a role as possible in broader interagency efforts. As with our work on behalf of transition communities and workers, this is a long-term challenge to which we make a long-term commitment.”

The final report is summarized in an article in The Colorado Sun , which emphasizes the explicit goal for the Office of Just Transition to “Encourage the federal government to lead with a national strategy for energy transition workers”.  This is perhaps thanks to the leadership of Dennis Dougherty, Chair of the Colorado Just Transition Advisory Committee, Executive Director of the Colorado AFL-CIO, and through them, a representative to the National Economic Transition project – a grassroots organization of representatives from U.S. coal communities.  That ongoing project released a National Economic Transition Platform in the summer of 2020 .

New coalition urges legislative changes to counter environmental racism

Canada’s Big Chances to Address Environmental Racism” appeared in The Tyee on November 26. The “Big Chances” referred to are three legislative initiatives for Canada, all of which were recommended in the September 2020 Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, which stated, “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.”

The three recommended initiatives :

  1. Recognition of the right to a healthy environment:  as recognized in more than 150 countries, and under consideration as part of the modernization of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.  
  2. Implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:  includes the recognition of Indigenous legal systems and free, prior and informed consent for resource projects on Indigenous land. On December 3, the federal government introduced Bill C-15 An Act respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples .   A dedicated website provides a summary of the provisions, including the fact that the new legislation, if passed, would not impose any retroactive Duty to Consult.
  3. Private member’s  Bill C-230, An Act respecting the development of a national strategy to redress environmental racism, first introduced by Member of Parliament Lenore Zann in the House of Commons on February 26 2020.  Second Reading occurred on December 8, with a substantive debate, transcribed here, but without a vote. A summary of Bill C-230, as well as bilingual resources for a social media and letter-writing campaign, are offered at the ENRICH project website.

The article in The Tyee was co-written by representatives of a new Canadian coalition which seeks to raise awareness and funds which can be used to support existing agencies fighting environmental racism. These groups include the Black Environmental Initiative, Amnesty International Canada , the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, and the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health (ENRICH) project at Dalhousie University. Another member of the coalition is Professor Dayna Scott, who submitted this Brief to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in 2016 during its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Read more about the new coalition in “Dalhousie University professor forming coalition to address environmental racism across Canada” in the Halifax Chronicle Herald (Dec. 1)  or in Saltwire .  

Vancouver approves Climate Emergency Action Plan and promises a Climate Justice Charter

On November 17, Vancouver City Council approved a Climate Emergency Action Plan, a roadmap for the city to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030, with a focus on  the biggest local sources – fossil fuels use in vehicles (39% of city emissions) and in buildings (54%). According to the official Summary, goals for 2030 include 50% of the km driven on Vancouver’s roads to be by zero emissions vehicles, and 40% less embodied emissions from new buildings and construction projects compared to 2018. The plan will cost $500 million over the next five years, according to reporting from Business in Vancouver .

Detailed documentation is available here , and the 318-page staff proposal presented to City Council on November 3rd is here . As reported by Business in Vancouver  and  The Georgia Straight , all 19 action items proposed by staff did not survive debate. The most contentious issues related to plans for a “walkable city” and a proposal for congestion pricing for the city centre. Staff were directed to prepare a report for Council by 2022 on that issue. The Georgia Straight  reproduces all the motions from the debate, indicating next steps, and how the final approved plan differs from the staff proposals.

Consultation process included a Climate and Equity Working Group

The Climate Emergency Action Plan drew on a citizen consultation process, described in detail in the staff  proposal document .  One of the key features of the consultation process:  a Climate and Equity Working Group (as described in Appendix N at page 251) which included “a rich mix of perspectives including new immigrants, people with disabilities, people with low income, urban Indigenous. The majority of participants were racialized people.” However, the report also notes that the process lacked voices from some Indigenous nations, as well as seniors, youth LGBTQ2+ community, and  “While the majority of participants were women, there was no voice specific to gender equity. These gaps need to be addressed in future engagement as part of implementation work and in the reformation of the Climate and Equity Working Group.” The Emergency Action Plan approved by Council on November 17 promises:  “Our equity work on climate policies and programs will be shaped by the forthcoming Climate Justice Charter, the Equity Framework, the Reconciliation Framework, the Healthy City Strategy, Vancouver’s Housing Strategy, and the Women’s Equity Strategy.”

Environmental justice in Canada: A labour union call to action, and evidence from the UN Special Rapporteur

  “We will not rest, we will not stop: Building for better in a post-pandemic recovery” appeared in the Labour Day issue of Our Times magazine, written by Yolanda McClean and Christopher Wilson, executive officers of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU). Set in the context of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, the article states: “The calls to intensify the struggle against Canada’s police violence, economic apartheid and environmental racism are resounding.  …Anti-Indigenous, anti-Black and systemic racism extend beyond our political structures to our education and healthcare systems, to our corporations, workplaces, communities and, yes, to our labour movement.  (On this point, the authors refer to “Dear White Sisters & Brothers,” an Open Letter by unionist Carol Wall which appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Our Times).

Wilson and McClean call upon the labour movement, stating: “A labour vision for a post-pandemic recovery must confront structural racial inequalities and advocate for the inclusion of BIPOC communities — economically, politically and socially.”   As positive examples, the article cites the Ontario Federation of Labour, which joined with the CBTU in a joint statement in July, stating: “As allies, we must act now and support the call to defund the police”. Wilson and McClean also highlight the CBTU’s “Green Is Not White” Environmental Racism research project, and its associated webinar “What Can Unions Do to Stop Environmental Racism?” , produced by the CBTU, the Asian Canadian Labour Alliance, and York University’s Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW).   

UN Special Rapporteur reviews toxic chemicals in Canada and concludes: Environmental injustice persists in Canada

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics, Mr. Baskut Tuncak, officially visited Canada in May/June 2019, and presented his resulting Report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in early September 2020. The report states clearly that “Environmental injustice persists in Canada. A significant proportion of the population in Canada experience racial discrimination, with Indigenous, and racialized people, the most widely considered to experience discriminatory treatment.” The report focused on the extractive industries (defined as “mining of metals and oil sands”) in Canada and abroad – noting that over 50% of the world’s multinational mining companies are based in Canada. The report also discusses oil and gas pipelines, and chemical industries (including pesticides in agriculture). After documenting many specific examples, the Rapporteur concludes with recommendations for legislative and regulatory changes.

Excerpted highlights from the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics :

“….Contamination from extractive industries, including the massive tailing ponds in Alberta, and the possibility of seeping into local water supplies, is of concern.

… despite compliance with the Fisheries Act, 76% of metal mines have confirmed effects on fish, fish habitat or both. Among these mines, 92% confirmed at least one effect of a magnitude that may be indicative of a higher risk to the environment.

….The health risks posed to Indigenous peoples by the multibillion-dollar oil sands industry are another example of concerns. Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan (Fort Chip) paint a disturbing picture of health impacts of the oil sands (i.e. tar sands) that were not properly investigated for years, despite increasing evidence of health impacts on local communities.

 … the situation of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation in Sarnia is profoundly unsettling. Deeply connected with their land, residents on the reservation invaded by industry as far back as the 1940s are now surrounded on three sides by over 60 industrial facilities that create the physiological and mental stress among community members …It is one of the most polluted places in Canada, dubbed “chemical valley.” ….   

…Workers are unquestionably vulnerable regarding their unique and elevated risks to chemical exposures. In Canada, occupational diseases and disabilities due to such exposures pose a major challenge to fulfilment of workers’ rights. Recent estimates show over 2.9 million workers are exposed to carcinogens and other hazardous substances at work, which is a gross underestimation.. ”  

NRDC report details climate change threats to workers’ health and champions workers’ action

On the Front Lines: Climate Change Threatens the Health of America’s Workers  was released on July 28  by the Natural Resources Defense Council, with input from the BlueGreen Alliance, American Federation of Teachers, Communications Workers of America, and Service Employees International Union in the U.S. (press release here and a blog summary here). The authors analyse the extensive existing literature and include first-hand stories from outdoor and indoor workers to describe the physical, mental health, and wage-related impacts of heat stress, wildfires, drought, floods, hurricanes, and the spread of infectious diseases. Over 200 reports and articles are cited. The report calls for amendments to the Occupational Safety and Health Act in the U.S.- including a federal heat standard – with sufficient budgeting and staff for effective enforcement, with a broader overall call: “Adapting to our new climate means overhauling existing safeguards to respond to an intensified set of occupational hazards; extending occupational health and safety protections to all workers; and ensuring workers have the training, job security, flexibility, and empowerment they need to collectively demand protection from climate change. Because climate disruption is sure to create cascading failures through multiple sectors and to bring some nasty surprises, occupational health and safety activists and professionals must also build a better way to track, analyze, and quickly act on existing and emerging health threats to workers.”

Every worker health and safety accomplishment came about by agitating and organizing

Although the report also calls on legislators, regulators and employers to act, the emphasis is on the role of collective action by workers, noting that “Every worker health and safety accomplishment came about by agitating and organizing.” The report also stresses the need to protect workers’ right to organize: “Legislators at all levels of government must honor the right of workers to a safe and healthy workplace by strengthening and enforcing legal protections for unionization and collective bargaining. To stay safe on the job, workers and their representatives must have adequate knowledge, training, and freedom from retaliation to help shape and improve occupational health programs, refuse hazardous work, report workplace injuries and illnesses, and file complaints with state or federal inspectors.”

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

Why Racial Justice is Climate Justice” in Grist (June 4) compiles the comments of five environmental justice leaders in the U.S., and links the incidence of Covid-19 with the environmental injustices of the past.

“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.”

Robert Bullard, often acknowledged as the founder of the environmental justice movement and now a distinguished professor at Texas Southern University, Houston, also makes the connection in  “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Police Violence have Reignited the Fight against Toxic Racism” in The Intercept (June 17),where he describes his efforts to revive the National Black Environmental Justice Network ;  In “Q&A: A Pioneer of Environmental Justice Explains Why He Sees Reason for Optimism” , Bullard reflects on the past and offers optimistic views on the current demonstrations:  “you see young people out there from different economic groups, different ethnic groups and racial groups, there is an awakening unlike any that I’ve seen on this earth in over 70 years.”  Bullard is also quoted as one of the panelists in an Environmental Justice Roundtable from the journal Environmental Justice  (June 5) in which he states:

“This moment in time is just as important as the birth of our movement …..Environment is where we live, work, play, worship, learn, as well as the physical and natural world. So that means housing and transportation. It means energy. It means employment. It means health. It means all of that. Intersectionality is the word of the day. These things interlace all of our institutions, whether we are talking about unions, black colleges and universities, small businesses, faith-based institutions, or any other type of institution.”

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.”  (In Canada, we have no such detailed data, and  data collection and transparency has been widely criticized in Ontario.  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.)

Q&A: A Human Rights Expert Hopes Covid-19, Climate Change and Racial Injustice Are a ‘Wake-Up Call’ – transcribing an interview with Philip Alston, recently-retired  UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and now professor of law at New York University . He states: “The optimistic way is to see Covid-19 as a trial run for what’s on the way with climate change in the sense that it really is a crisis that has affected vast numbers of people that has shown up the importance of being prepared and the importance of listening to the warning signals, and the potential for totally disproportionate impact on different groups of the population—whether by gender, class, race and so on. Covid-19 could provide some sort of wake-up call to those of us who are pretending that climate change is going to be manageable and we don’t really need to do anything until it actually starts to hit ever more dramatically….. A much more pessimistic way of looking at it is to wonder if Covid-19, followed by the George Floyd pandemic of racial violence and inequality, is going to lead to a sort of crisis fatigue.”

Yet “Climate activists have a lot to learn from listening” in the National Observer (June 9) is a thoughtful call  for a shift in tactics and approach: “The climate change movement is learning to listen. If we can learn to listen to people’s concerns about their health, and respond by talking about health first — and then about how action on climate is important to protect it — we may yet win.”

How does  environmental justice relate to racial justice?

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. The winter of 2020 saw demonstrations across Canada in support of  Indigenous protestors at the Wet’suwet’en blockades of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, facing police violence and intimidation,  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.  

“‘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.”

Emilee 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. …”

Indigenous and Black people in Canada share social exclusion and collective outrage” in the National Observer (June 10)  links environmental justice, the natural world, and health, and concludes: “While the momentum of what is being called Black Spring continues, it is important to address the constant trespasses against Indigenous rights. It is past due that we set our ambitions toward rectifying the damage being done to the environment and its impact on the health outcomes of First Nations Peoples.”

In the U.S.

As Protests Rage Over George Floyd’s Death, Climate Activists Embrace Racial Justice” (June 3), and “Louisville’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ Demonstrations Continue a Long Quest for Environmental Justice”  (June 21) both appeared in Inside Climate News, providing examples of  practical actions in the U.S..

In “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.

In “Defunding the Police Is Good Climate Policy” , Kate Aronoff in The New Republic (June 4) argues “there’s plenty of common cause to be found in calls to defund the police and invest in a more generous, democratic, and green public sphere, well beyond the scope of what any carbon-pricing measure can accomplish. For green activists, that will mean seeing decarbonization less as a narrow battle for line items that incentivize renewables than as a contest to shape who and what society values in a climate-changed twenty-first century; many, including in the Sunrise Movement, are already making these connections.”

Aronoff refers to a call to action by the youth-led Sunrise Movement :   “The Climate Justice Movement must Oppose White Supremacy Everywhere — By Supporting M4BL”  (May 29).  It concludes:  “Much as we support defunding fossil fuel companies to invest in the future of humanity, we must also support the defunding of white supremacist institutions — including the police and prison-industrial complex — to invest in healing and reparations for Black communities. That is what it means to fight for racial justice, and nothing less.”

Geoff Dembicki discusses the Sunrise Movement in his June 18  article in Vice, “Why ‘Defunding the Police’ Is Also an Environmental Issue”, which argues that “Defunding the police isn’t a distraction from organizing mass numbers of people to fight the climate emergency. It’s part of the same theory of change and political vision.”  (Dembicki also penned a relevant article profiling Extinction Rebellion U.S., which appeared in Vice in April, “A Debate Over Racism Has Split One of the World’s Most Famous Climate Groups” .  The statements of other groups are reviewed in “Responding to protests, green groups reckon with a racist past” in Grist (June 1) ,including the League of Conservation VotersEarthjustice350.org, and the Sierra Club , all of whom issued statements condemning the killing of George Floyd and vowing to work towards racial justice.  Others were signatories to an Open Letter  sent to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights . 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) summarizes interviews with three U.S. environmental activists:   Sam Grant,  executive director of MN350.org,  (Minnesota affiliate of 350.org); Robert Bullard,  and Heather McGhee,  a senior fellow at Demos, a nonpartisan research and advocacy group.

“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.”

An interview by  Yale Environment 360 titled “Unequal Impact: The Deep links between Racism and Climate Change”  (June 9)  asked Elizabeth Yeampierre (co-chair of the  Climate Justice Alliance, and executive director of UPROSE) “What would you hope the climate movement and the environmental justice movement take away from this moment and apply going forward?” Her reply: “ I think it’s a moment for introspection and a moment to start thinking about how they contribute to a system that makes a police officer think it’s okay to put his knee on somebody’s neck and kill them, or a woman to call the police on an African-American man who was bird-watching in the park….. These institutions [environmental groups] have to get out of their silos and out of their dated thinking, and really need to look to organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance and Movement Generation and all of the organizations that we work with. There are so many people who have been working with each other now for years and have literally put out tons of information that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. It’s all there.”

 

Bargaining for the Common Good- including climate justice and just recovery

“Bargaining for Climate Justice”  appears in the March 2020 special issue of The Forge, a publication launched in September 2019 by and for community and labour organizers.  The article is written by Todd Vachon, Saket Sonni, Judith LeBlanc and Gerry Hudson, and  updates their earlier article,   “How Workers Can Demand Climate Justice”, which appeared in American Prospect in September 2019. Both articles describe the new movement  of Bargaining for the Common Good, defined as:  “an innovative approach for bringing unions and allies together to shape bargaining demands that advance the mutual interests of workers and communities alike. BCG campaigns seek to increase investment in underserved communities and confront structural inequalities—not simply to agree on a union contract.”

The origins of the BCG movement are described in “Going on Offense During Challenging Times” (in New Labor Forum, 2018) which explains: “Bargaining for Common Good aims to avoid transactional relationships between community and labor by building lasting alignments between unions and community groups, not merely temporary alliances of convenience.” “Bargaining for Climate Justice” describes how the element of climate justice fits in to the broader concerns of BCG , and updates it with the example of the February strike by janitors in Minneapolis, members of SEIU Local 26,  as well as the concept of  “bargaining for a just recovery”, expanding it from climate-related disasters such as hurricanes and pipeline spills, to the most recent disaster: the current pandemic.  The authors state:

“To date, BCG campaigns have been launched around issues of education, racial justice, public services, immigration, finance, housing, and privatization. But they are in many ways perhaps best suited to taking on the overarching existential issues such as global pandemics and human-caused climate change that intersect with and often exacerbate all of these other issues.”

bargaining for the common good toolkitThe Center for Innovative Workplace Organization at Rutgers University  in the U.S. has established a program to promote concrete initiatives around all aspects of Bargaining for the Common Good – building alliances, convening conferences and regional meetings (now delivered through webinars), and compiling resources such as a “Common Good” Toolkit. That Toolkit includes examples of bargaining demands related to Climate Justice.

Addressing environmental racism through legislation and through activism

Bill C-230, An Act respecting the Development of a National Strategy to Redress Environmental Racism  is a private members bill introduced to the federal House of Commons on Feb. 26 by Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann, seconded by Elizabeth May of the Green Party. The Bill calls on the government to develop a national strategy which will address the disproportionate number of Indigenous or racialized people who live in environmentally hazardous areas. If passed, the Bill would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change “to consult with representatives of provincial and municipal governments, of Indigenous communities and of other affected communities, as well as with any other affected persons and bodies.”  Further, the strategy must:

  • (a) examine the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk;
  • (b) collect information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards;
  • (c) collect information and statistics relating to negative health outcomes in communities that have been affected by environmental racism;
  • (d) assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province; and
  • (e) address environmental racism including in relation to
    • (i) possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs,
    • (ii) the involvement of community groups in environmental policy-making,
    • (iii) compensation for individuals or communities,
    • (iv) ongoing funding for affected communities, and
    • (v) access of affected communities to clean air and water.

Member of Parliament Zann had previously introduced Bill 111, The Environmental Racism Prevention Act  in 2015,  when she was a member of the  provincial legislature Waldron something in the water coverof Nova Scotia . An article in Saltwire (Feb. 28) explains how Nova Scotia has become a centre for research and action on environmental racism –  led by the research of Dr. Ingrid Waldron of Dalhousie University. Dr. Waldron’s book,  There’s Something in the Water,  was published by Fernwood Press in 2018 and has been turned into a documentary co-directed by Halifax-born star Ellen Page.   In 2017, the East Coast Environmental Law Association  proposed an innovative  Nova Scotia Environmental Bill of Rights  which states that the people “have a right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”, and recognizes that “there is a history of environmental racism in Nova Scotia that has disproportionately and negatively affected historically marginalized, vulnerable, and economically disadvantaged individuals, groups or communities, particularly Indigenous People and African Nova Scotians”.

Green is Not White

On the same day as Bill C-230 was introduced, Medium’s Asparagus magazine took up the issue of racism in the environmental movement.   “Too White to Solve the Climate Crisis?” (Feb. 26)  discusses the white elitism of the environmental movement, and offers the example of the Green is Not White project, which educates Green_Is_Not_White_cover ACWtrade unionists about environmental racism and advocates for the rights and inclusion of Black, Asian, and Indigenous workers in a zero-carbon economy. The Green is Not White project was begun in December 2016 by the Ontario branch of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU) , led by Chris Wilson of the Public Service Alliance of Canada,  in collaboration with the  Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Climate Change (ACW).  Its work engages community and labour activists in workshops and participative research , and  has  also been highlighted in Rabble.ca (Feb. 29) and  in Our Times .

The Twitter account at  #EnvRacismCBTUACW posts frequently,  and the ACW website compiles previous articles, resources, videos, and handouts here – including  descriptions of the workshops and free downloads of  a Workshop Guide , a detailed (35-page) Facilitator’s Notes and a  Presentation which concludes with this statement:

“If Canada’s racialized and indigenous communities are not engaged in the struggle, the transition to a green economy will not be just. There can be no change without a struggle.”

Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice

transit equity day people of colourTransit Equity Day in the United States was held on February 4 – a date chosen to honour Rosa Parks, whose refusal to yield her seat on a bus in 1955 was the catalyst in the U.S. struggle against the segregation of public transit.  Now in 2020, Transit Equity Day’s main goal is “to promote environmentally-sustainable and affordable transit accessible to all, regardless of income, national origin, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, or ability,” and in all communities, rural or urban.  In addition to social justice goals, it also promotes climate justice and workplace justice, calling for good, union jobs for transit workers and those who manufacture transit equipment, as well as a  just transition for workers and communities in the  transition to an electrified, non-polluting transit system.  Transit Equity Day is organized by the Labor Network for Sustainability, in cooperation with environmental and labour groups already working to promote public transit – including the Amalgamated Transit Union , Transport Workers of America, Connecticut Roundtable for Climate and Jobs , Metropolitan Washington District AFL-CIO, and Jobs to Move America .

Transit Equity Day also supports the growing free public transit movement – described, with global case studies, in Free Public Transit: And Why We Don’t Pay to Ride Elevators, a book published in Canada by Black Rose books in 2017.  Since then, advocates have focused mainly on the social justice arguments: for example in  “Free and Accessible Transit Now: Toward A Red-Green Vision for Toronto” (Canadian Dimension, May 10 2018) . This continues to be the focus in the July 2019 call for free transit by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2, representing Toronto Transit Commission workers,  and endorsed by CUPE Ontario. Also in a January 2020 blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union in Canada , which stated:

“….successful examples of fare free transit around the world demonstrate that this model of public transit service may not be radical or utopian. However, there are real concerns implementation of fare free transit.

ATU Canada advocates for fares to be affordable for all, and advocates for progress toward creating a fare-free transit. Incremental pricing actions (such as fare-freezes and reductions) are realistic in lieu of immediate fare-free transit subsidized by government. In our advocacy, we prioritize efforts to eliminate cost barriers to accessing jobs, education, health care, and other services, through the implementation of low-income passes. A gradual approach to fare reduction is sorely needed in many municipalities across Canada, with the ultimate goal of ensuring that transit is safe, reliable, and affordable for all.”

Free transit and climate change

The Richochet published two articles which marry concern for social justice with the well-established environmental benefits of transit over cars:  “Advocates say decommodified housing and free transit needed to fight climate emergency” (Oct.9)  describes activism in  Montreal, and “Free public transit is key to any Green New Deal worthy of the name” (Oct. 19)  which is an overview of the growing activism Canada-wide. “The case for free public transit in Toronto” in Now Magazine (Dec. 2019) only begins to discuss the fraught transit politics in Toronto. In December 2019, members of the Free Transit Edmonton movement published an Opinion piece: “Make transit free for the sake of our climate and community” in the Edmonton Journal.  For a recent U.S. summary, see “Should Public Transit Be Free? More Cities Say, Why Not?” in the New York Times (Jan. 14).

Unifor’s campaign to defend Northern Pulp mill jobs in Nova Scotia

northern pulp view

A January 8 general news release, “Nova Scotian forestry workers already struggling as Northern Pulp prepares to close ” summarizes the union’s position in a quote from Atlantic Region Director Linda MacNeil: ““We all agreed Boat Harbour had to close. That closure did not have to come at the cost of thousands of rural jobs ­­– there was a solution for the mill to coexist, but there was no political will from McNeil to make it happen …. Our members and other forestry workers are not the ones responsible for any wrong-doing here. … They deserve better than to be blamed and sacrificed due to the government’s lack of leadership, consultation or clear regulatory expectations.”

The context:

The “years of controversy” over the Northern Pulp mill is summarized in a Backgrounder  in the Halifax Chronicle Herald on December 10 2019, published just before the government of Nova Scotia announced that it would enforce a 2015 law which would require the mill to stop pumping effluent in Boat Harbour.  Paper Excellence Canada , the owner of the Northern Pulp mill,  stated almost immediately  that it would close the mill, but apparently the years of controversy are not over yet.  As reported on January 9 in “NS effluent dumping mill to move ahead with environmental process” in the National Observer , Paper Excellence has issued a new statement: “Our team is currently focused on supporting our employees, developing plans for a safe and environmentally responsible hibernation, and working with the government of Nova Scotia and stakeholders to determine next steps.”

Unifor’s role in the controversy: 

Unifor represents approximately 230 workers at the  mill and has been actively engaged in advocating to protect its members’ jobs by allowing the mill owners, Excellence Paper, to improve the environmental performance of the mill by building a new effluent treatment plant. Unifor’s Save Northern Pulp Jobs campaign  includes “Why Mill Jobs Matter” as a summary;  in early 2019, the union commissioned  a detailed economic impact study by consultants Gardner Pinfold which makes the case for the “keystone” importance of the mill in the region, profiling major businesses from the supply chain of  1,379 companies associated with the mill operation,  and estimating that the mill accounts for approximately 2,679 full-time equivalent jobs, earning approximately $128 million annually.  (Note that Gardner Pinfold completed an earlier economic impact study  for the industry group, Forest Nova Scotia, in 2016).

An ongoing series of Updates chronicle how Unifor has participated in the provincial environmental assessment process and in direct advocacy for their membership.  The January 3 update  reports to members on interactions with government, stating: “the best course of action for a viable and continued forest industry in the province is with Northern Pulp continuing to operate. We reiterated that the $50 million should be used to assist all workers in the industry through a temporary shutdown of the mill to facilitate the construction of Northern Pulp’s new effluent treatment facility (ETF)…. We also suggested the idea of a third-party expert who could serve as intermediary between government regulators and the company to establish a firm and fair process and timelines for the necessary approvals to take place for construction of the ETF.”

The update also states:  “Premier McNeil announced a $50 million transition fund for forestry workers that was of particular interest during the meeting, especially since the fund was never mentioned to the union, or anyone else, prior to his December 20 decision.”

Work and Climate Change Report has summarized the $50 million  Forestry Transition Fund here.

Further documentation: The March 2019 submission of Unifor Atlantic Region to the provincial Environmental Assessment process is here , included in a compilation of all submissions ; comments by Unifor’s National Office to the environmental assessment process in October 2019 appears here (around page 14).

 

northern pulp view

Environmental injustice for Canada’s First Nations – updated

Syncrude_mildred_lake_plantAn overview of the state of environmental injustice in Canada appears in The Statement of United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, issued following his visit in May/June 2019. The full report will be presented to the United Nations in Fall 2020.  The preliminary information presented in  the Statement identifies “a pervasive trend of inaction of the Canadian Government in the face of existing health threats from decades of historical and current environmental injustices and the cumulative impacts of toxic exposures by indigenous peoples. ” The Statement commented on the specific cases of the oil sands (Fort McMurray, Fort MacKay and Fort Chipewyan), Sarnia, Muskrat Falls, and mining sites such as Elk Valley.  He noted that Canada has “the second highest number of known mining accidents from 2007-2017, increasing significantly from previous years.”

The Special Rapporteur concluded: “It was clear during the course of my visit that many communities in Canada continue to be exploited by toxic exposures.  Some key concerns include: (1) the limited degree of protection of human health and ecosystems under various legislation; (2) the lack of environmental information and monitoring in areas of high risk; (3) long delays or absence of health impact assessment for affected communities; (4) the inadequate compliance with and enforcement of laws and policies; (5) systemic obstacles to access to justice, in particular for cases of health impacts due to chronic exposures; and (6) the recalcitrance to ensure that victims can realize their right to an effective remedy.   The situation of affected communities outside Canada is of equal concern in many of these regards, including the inordinate power imbalance faced by communities in low- and middle-income countries relative to Canadian corporations.”

The Special Rapporteur visited Sarnia’s “Chemical Valley” and highlighted it in his Statement. This area has been identified as a “pollution hot spot”, and the Aamjiwnaang   First Nation have long fought for redress – including a legal challenge under the Environmental Bill of Rights in 2007.  More recently, on October 9, the Toronto Star published “Whistleblower alleges province failing to protect First Nations community in ‘Chemical Valley’ from ‘dangerous’ air pollutants” , a senior engineer employed by the provincial Ministry of the Environment  alleges that ministry executives withheld technical and scientific information about sulphur dioxide impacts,  failed to properly consult the Aamjiwnaang First Nation representatives, and that he was subject to workplace reprisals for raising the issues. His grievance, filed with the labour board, details his accusations and asks for $186,000 to compensate for the reprisals, and for the ministry to begin discussions with him and Aamjiwnaang representatives “with the goal of providing capacity funding and to develop a program” that would transfer authority from the ministry  to the Aamjiwnaang to enforce Ontario air pollution requirements that impact their territory.

Other examples are described by reporters at The National Observer – for example, “How Alberta kept Fort McKay First Nation in the dark about a toxic cloud from the oilsands” (April 2019)  and “Alberta officials are signalling they have no idea how to clean up toxic oilsands tailings ponds” (Nov. 2018) .  The Narwhal maintains an archive of articles concerning Canadian mining examples, including the Mount Polley and Taesko mines. One example, “‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines” (August 2019) .  The APTN News article “Amnesty uses World Water Day to highlight environmental racism in Canada” provides an overview of First Nations actions as of March 2019.

grassy narrows warningAnother example of long-standing concern, mercury pollution at Grassy Narrows, has emerged as an election issue, with the Chief of Grassy Narrows running for the NDP in the riding of Kenora.  Dozens of other Indigenous leaders are running in the current election to bring attention to their own areas, according to a CBC report : for the NDP, 10 candidates; for the Liberals, 12; for the Conservatives, 7, and for the Greens, 6.

Related reading:

The Alberta Environmental Law Centre published a blog in September, Access to Environmental Justice: Costs and scientific uncertainty raise barriers to protecting communities .  This brief blog acts an introduction to the issue of environmental injustice by providing brief overviews (with links to further readings) of case studies which illustrate the barriers to legal action experienced by Alberta First Nations. The  specific cases described are Kearl Oil Sands Environmental Assessment (2007), Fort McKay (2016) and the Beaver Lake Cree Nation.  Looking beyond Alberta, the blog also notes examples of Sarnia Ontario’s Chemical Valley, and Africville Nova Scotia, and briefly discusses the concept of climate justice.

 

How to break the green ceiling in the U.S. environmental movement

Leaking Talent: How People of Color are Pushed out of Environmental Organizations  is the latest publication of Green 2.0 (formerly the Green Diversity Initiative), a U.S. NGO whose purpose is “to stimulate the demand for, and demonstrate the supply of, talented leaders of all backgrounds” in the mainstream environmental movement.

Leaking Talent reports on a 2018 survey which determined that, amongst the 40 largest green NGOs in the U.S., only 20% of the staff and 21% of the senior staff identified as “People of Color”.  The survey results for environmental foundations were similar:  25% of the staff and 4% of the senior staff identified as People of Color.  To determine the factors related to retention and promotion, the author examined qualitative and quantitative data from employees, their HR or diversity managers, and their CEOs. Results showed that  a focus on employee development and transparency in the promotion process had the most consistent impact on intent to stay for all employees. For top-level leaders, the strongest effect came from diversity and inclusion commitments stated in the organization’s mission, vision and values .

Green 2.0 established a baseline of data, and coined the term “green ceiling”  in 2014 with  The State of Diversity in Environmental Organizations: Mainstream NGOs, Foundations & Government Agencies . That survey concluded that unconscious bias, discrimination, and insular recruiting were the top three barriers to hiring and retention in the mainstream movement. Other publications are:   Beyond Diversity: A Roadmap to Building an Inclusive Organization  (2017) , and in January 2019,  the 2017 Transparency Report Card was updated

Green New Deal Resolution introduced in U.S. House of Representatives

ocasio cortezOn February 7, 2019, freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in partnership with Ed Markey, tabled a Resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives,  titled, “Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal”. Here is the statement of goals (cut and pasted by WCR from the OAC version):   “Resolved, That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that  (1) it is the duty of the Federal Government to  create a Green New Deal— (A) to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas  emissions through a fair and just transition for  all communities and workers; (B) to create millions of good, high-wage  jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States;  (C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet  the challenges of the 21st century; (D) to secure for all people of the United  States for generations to come—(i) clean air and water; (ii) climate and community resiliency; (iii) healthy food; (iv) access to nature; and  (v) a sustainable environment; and  (E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with  disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’)” .

David Roberts in his article in Vox, states:  “The resolution consists of a preamble, five goals, 12 projects, and 15 requirements. The preamble establishes that there are two crises, a climate crisis and an economic crisis of wage stagnation and growing inequality, and that the GND can address both. The goals — achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, creating jobs, providing for a just transition, securing clean air and water — are broadly popular. The projects — things like decarbonizing electricity, transportation, and industry, restoring ecosystems, upgrading buildings and electricity grids — are necessary and sensible (if also extremely ambitious).”  Roberts emphasizes the progressive, social justice core of the proposals, including that “the Green New Deal now involves a federal job guarantee, the right to unionize, liberal trade and monopoly policies, and universal housing and health care.” 

Media coverage began immediately :  “Democrats Formally Call for a Green New Deal, Giving Substance to a Rallying Cry” in the New York Times ; articles also appear in the Washington Post    and The Guardian , and Politico  compiles general reactions in “Green New Deal lands in the Capitol“. From Jake Johnson of Common Dreams, “‘This Is What Hope Feels Like’: Green New Deal Resolution Hailed as ‘Watershed Moment’ for New Era of Climate Action” .

By February 8, the Washington Post analysis appeared:   “No ‘unanimity’ on Green New Deal, says key House Democrat” , which discusses the political odds of success for the Green New Deal – and cites the satirical headline which appeared in The Onion: “Nancy Pelosi Signals Support For Environmental Causes By Placing Green New Deal Directly Into Recycling Bin.” Politico also discusses the political opposition in “The Impossible Green Dream of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez” , referencing the “green dream” label given the plan by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.     

As of February 8, the AFL-CIO hadn’t posted a reaction. The Labor Network for Sustainability has been strongly in favour of the Green New Deal: see, for example, their post,  Twelve Reasons Labour should demand a Green New Deal , written before the proposal was tabled in the House of Representatives.   

sunrise movementOn February 11, the Sunrise Movement, the key mover behind the Green New Deal, posted their reaction on Common Dreams , pledging to assemble an “unprecedented coalition” , which already includes  Justice Democrats, 32BJ SEIU, Green for All, 1199SEIU, Center for Popular Democracy, People’s Action, Working Families Party, Dream Corps, Presente.org, Demos, Sierra Club, 350.org, CREDO, Bold, Organic Consumers Association, Honor the Earth, Seeding Sovereignty, American Sustainable Business Council President, and NextGen.  From Sunrise: “We’re planning over 600 Congressional office visits this week to kick start our campaign to build the political and public support for the Green New Deal, which will include getting thousands of organizations signed on to back the resolution.”

 

Labour activists raising environmental justice issues in Canada’s climate change policy

ourtimes cover-Chris JawaraThe featured article in the Winter 2018 issue of Our Times is  “A Green Economy for All” , which describes the action-research project Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities: An Environmental Justice Perspective.   The ultimate goal: to equip Black trade unionists and racialized activists in Canada with the tools they need to influence the public policy debate over climate change, to ensure that the new green economy does not look the same as the old white economy.   With important inspiration from the Idle No More movement and the Indigenous experience in Canada, the project began with research into what has already been written about environmental racism in Canada, along with  a participatory social media campaign using the Twitter hashtag #EnvRacismCBTUACW,  to solicit more information about lived experience.  The project has now reached its second phase, designing and facilitating workshops to develop activism around the issue.  The first of these workshops  was presented to the Elementary Teachers of Toronto (ETT) in December 2017.  Facilitation questions, case studies and workshop information will be made publicly available, with the goal of engaging other social and political activists, as well as the labour movement.

The Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities  project was launched in 2017 by the Adapting Canadian Work and Workplaces to Respond to Climate Change (ACW) project at York University,  in collaboration with Coalition of Black Trade Unionists , and is being led by Chris Wilson, Ontario Regional Coordinator for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and  PSAC Ontario union negotiator Jawara Gairey.

“A Green Economy for All”  also mentions the work of the Toronto Environmental Alliance , which produced a map of toxic concentrations in the city in 2005, and the forthcoming book  There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous and Black Communities,  which highlights the grassroots resistance against environmental racism in Nova Scotia, and is written by Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University  and  Director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (The ENRICH Project).

 

What happens to workers when wildfires and natural disasters hit?

Sadly, we are becoming  used to seeing headlines about the costs of fighting climate change-related wildfires, hurricanes, and floods – most recently, the record wildfire season of 2017.   These news reports usually discuss loss  in terms of the value of  insurance  claims – for example, “Northern Alberta Wildfire Costliest Insured Natural Disaster in Canadian History – Estimate of insured losses: $3.58 billion”   from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, or in terms of the budgets of emergency service agencies – for example, “Cost of fighting U.S. wildfires topped $2 billion in 2017” from Reuters (Sept. 14), or in terms of health and mental health effects – for example, “Economic analysis of health effects from forest fires”  in the Canadian Journal of Forest Research (2006).  “The Science behind B.C.’s Forest Fires” (December 5) post by West Coast Environmental Law discusses the links to climate change, and concludes that the record wildfires of 2017 foreshadow growing economic and  human costs in the future.

When employment effects of disasters are reported, it is usually by statistical agencies interested in working days lost or unemployment effects,  for example,  “Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016”  from Statistics Canada, or “Hurricane Katrina’s effects on industry employment and wages ” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( 2006) . While all these are important, Hurricane Katrina taught that there are also other aspects, including those of environmental and economic justice.

Hurricane Harvey survey coverOne recent example which illustrates recurring patterns: on December 5, the  Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation in Texas released the results of a survey about the impacts of Hurricane Harvey . While most of the survey reports on  the loss of homes and cars,  it also measures employment impacts:  46%  of respondents reported that  they or someone else in their household lost job-related income as a result of the storm – through  fewer hours at work (32%), losing a job entirely (12%) or losing income from a small business or unpaid missed days (32%). And as so often is the case, income disruptions affected a greater share of Hispanic (65%) and Black (46%) residents compared to White residents (31%).

Two recent news reports highlight a more surprising story of the California wildfires:   “California Is Running Out of Inmates to Fight Its Fires” in The Atlantic (Dec. 7 2017)  and “Incarcerated women risk their lives fighting California fires. It’s part of a long history of prison labor”  (Oct. 22, 2017) . These articles describe the long-standing practice in California of using prison inmates as firefighters: in the current season,  almost 3,000 of the 9,000 firefighters battling wildfires are inmates, who get a few dollars plus two days off their sentences for each day spent fighting wildfires.

fort_mcmurray-fireThe Fort MacMurray wildfires in northern Alberta in 2016 rank as the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history, exceeding the previous record, which was the 2013 flooding in Calgary and southern Alberta.  That ranking is based on the  estimate by the Insurance Bureau of Canada   of $3.58 billion;  the Conference Board of Canada also reported on the economic impacts  (free; registration required).   Statistics Canada measured work days lost and employment insurance claims through their Labour Force Survey instrument, and so were able to differentiate effects by sector, sex and age, as location, in two reports:  Wildfires in northern Alberta: Impact on hours worked, May and June, 2016  (November 2016)  and “Wildfires in northern Alberta affected hours and Employment Insurance beneficiaries”, a section in the Annual Review of the Labour Market, 2016 .

Another assessment of the total financial impact of the  Fort McMurray wildfire estimated the financial impact of the Fort MacMurray fire was $9.9 billion, as reported by the  CBC (January 2017) and the  Toronto Star (January 17).  That research, by two economists from MacEwan University in Edmonton,  was commissioned by the  Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction  , but does not appear to have been published as of December 2017.  Their estimates included  indirect impacts such as the expense of replacing buildings and infrastructure, lost income, and lost profits and royalties in the oilsands and forestry industries.  And they estimate the mental health impacts and  cost of suffering of the firefighters as $3.78 million.

Excellent news reports also described the employment situation – including the government and union support for workers : “ Fort MacMurray wildfires leaves livelihoods in limbo”   in the Globe and Mail  (updated March 2017); “Fort MacMurray smoke halts major oilsands project”  in the National Observer (May 7 2016),  “ Fort McMurray firefighters who slew ‘The Beast’ now battling emotional demons” from CBC News (July 3 2016) ,  and “Resilient but tired: Mental effects of wildfire lingering in Fort McMurray” in The National Observer (Dec. 18 2017).

An Employment Fact Sheet  from  ProBono Law website  answers FAQ’s regarding workers’ rights in Alberta as of May 2016 – such questions as: .  “If business operations are badly affected and an employer has no work for some or all employees, does the employer have to pay them …?” (No); “An employee’s home was badly affected by the fire. Are they entitled to paid or unpaid leave to sort out the personal problems caused by the fire?” (No, employees are not entitled , but some employers do offer such leaves as part of their benefit plans or will offer them if asked.) Future recourse regarding leave provisions may be available as of January 2018, when the Alberta Employment Standards Code is amended to provide new Personal and Family Responsibility Leave of  up to 5 days of job protection per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member, which includes attending to personal emergencies.   And failing that, there is always the hope, as described in the Toronto Star, that “Workplaces are adapting to climate change by offering paid extreme weather leave”  (November 14).

Parliamentary committee recommends a legislated right to a healthy environment in its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act

On June 15, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled its report, Healthy Environment, Healthy Canadians, Healthy Economy: Strengthening the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999,   and the French version, Un Environnement Sain, des Canadiens et une Économie en Santé : Renforcer la Loi Canadienne sur la Protection de l’environnement (1999).

Called a “ground-breaking”  report by the David Suzuki Foundation, this review of  the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA)  makes 87 recommendations to modernize the law.  The Ecojustice blog ,  “Much to celebrate in committee report on Canadian Environmental Protection Act”  summarizes some of the recommendations, including  the  introduction of national drinking water and air quality standards; “stronger enforcement provisions to ensure polluters are held to account; improved transparency, public reporting and consultation requirements; and faster timelines to ensure regulatory action is taken swiftly once a toxic threat is identified”.  Most important, however, is the recommendation that the Act recognize and protect the right of every person in Canada to a healthy environment – a right recognized in 110 other countries.

The reaction  from  East Coast Environmental Law also notes this right to a healthy environment, and emphasizes the environmental justice implications:  “ The Report… suggests that the importance of environmental rights to Indigenous peoples and vulnerable populations should be emphasized.  … The Report acknowledges that environmental burdens aren’t shared equitably by communities across Canada, …… it also makes a number of recommendations that address environmental injustice. For example, it recommends that the Act be expanded to include an obligation to protect the environment in a non-discriminatory way; that it enhance the procedural rights that protect access to information, access to justice, and public participation in environmental decision-making; that it address the inequitable burden of toxic exposure in Canada; and that it recognize the principles enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

The response from the David Suzuki Foundation also summarizes the recommendations, and makes clear that these are not yet law.  The  Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and eventually Cabinet, will consider the report, with legislation expected in the fall.   Ecojustice calls it “ a once-in-a generation opportunity to dramatically improve our most important environmental law.”

Environment and Climate Change Canada has compiled links to a history of CEPA . The Standing Committee website is here, with links to witnesses and the 68 briefs received.

 

$1.5 billion will buy new renewable energy projects, good green jobs, and environmental justice in New York State

On  June 2, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that his state would invest $1.5 billion in renewable energy projects through the Clean Climate Careers Initiative.  The program has three elements:  “supercharge” clean energy technologies, create up to 40,000 clean energy jobs by 2020, and  achieve environmental justice and Just Transition for underserved communities. Both the Governor’s press release and one from the Worker Institute at Cornell University Industrial and Labor Relations School attribute the inspiration for the new renewable energy initiative to the  “Labor Leading on Climate” program at the Worker Institute.

The  Institute has just published Reversing Inequality, Combatting Climate Change: A Climate Jobs Program for New York State (June 2017),  in which Lara Skinner and  co-author J. Mijin Cha argue for an “audicious”  job creation plan which would create decent green jobs in the building, energy, and transport sectors.  The report provides case studies and specific proposals to reduce GHG emissions – for example, to retrofit all public schools in the state to reach 100 percent of their energy efficiency potential by 2025, reduce energy use in all public buildings by 40 percent by 2025, install 7.5 GW of offshore wind by 2050,  rehabilitate New York City public transit, and construct and improve the existing high-speed passenger rail corridor between Albany and Buffalo, and between New York City and Montreal.  The report also includes a recommendation to establish a Just Transition Task Force – a recommendation incorporated in Governor Cuomo’s plan.

In the plan announced  by Governor Cuomo, $15 million has been committed “to educators and trainers that partner with the clean energy industry and unions to offer training and apprenticeship opportunities, with funding distributed to the most innovative and far-reaching apprenticeship, training programs and partnerships.  ”  The state is also committed to the use of a Project Labor Agreement framework for the construction of public works projects associated with the initiative.

A Working Group on Environmental Justice and Just Transition has been appointed and staffed, with a first meeting scheduled for June.  It will advise the administration on the integration of environmental justice principles into all agency policies, and to shape existing environmental justice programs.  The press release includes endorsements from the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and unions, including: Greater New York Building Construction Trades Council, New York State AFL-CIO, New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, IBEW Local 3, Transport Workers Union, Utility Workers Union Local 1-2,  United Association Plumbers & Pipefitters, and the past Secretary Treasurer of Service Employees International Union.

Governor Cuomo’s  Renewable Energy initiative was announced one day after Donald Trump’s  withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and after the Governor had signed an Executive Order  reaffirming New York’s  commitment to the Paris goals, and had launched a Climate Alliance with the states of California and Washington.

Still advocating for Environmental Rights as Human Rights. Evidence from Alberta, and innovative proposals for Nova Scotia

The Pembina Institute recently compiled three case studies related to energy development in Alberta, in an effort to document the adverse effects on individuals, communities and regions that result from weak environmental laws or regulatory enforcement.  The Environmental Law Centre in  Alberta also  published a series of reports in late 2016, including a module, Substantive Environmental Rights , which discusses environmental rights as a human right. Since 2014, the Blue Dot campaign, led by the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice ,  has been advocating for environmental rights to be enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Now, from the Pembina Institute comes The Right to a Healthy Environment: Documenting the need for environmental rights in Canada.  It consists of:  Case Study #1:  Individual impacts of intensive hydraulic fracturing activity in rural Alberta   ;  #2 Community impacts of air pollution in urban central Alberta (related to coal-fired electricity plants), and #3 Regional impacts of oilsands development in northern Alberta   (which examines the rights of First Nations).

In Nova Scotia, the Nova Scotia Environmental Rights Working Group of the East Coast Environmental Law Association  released their proposed and innovative  Nova Scotia Environmental Bill of Rights  on April 21 2017.  The bill states that the people “have a right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”, and that the “primary responsibility” to protect and conserve that environment falls to the province.  It also states that “there is a history of environmental racism in Nova Scotia that has disproportionately and negatively affected historically marginalized, vulnerable, and economically disadvantaged individuals, groups or communities, particularly Indigenous People and African Nova Scotians”.  The bill is based on the Precautionary Principle, the Polluter Pays Principle, the Non-Regression Principle, the Intergenerational Equity Principle, and the Principle of Environmental Justice and Equity.  Nova Scotians go to the polls in a general election on May 30; a guide to the policy positions of the Liberal, Conservative and NDP parties is here at the CBC website.  According to the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax, the provincial NDP party has pledged to support an Environmental Bill of Rights .

 

 

 

 

Renewable Energy legislation in Massachusetts earmarks funds for Just Transition, Environmental Justice

We are used to looking to California for leadership in climate change policy – and the Senate bill SB58, California Renewables Portfolio Standard Program  continues that reputation. Although only in rough draft form as it was introduced in February, it proposes to accelerate the target for sourcing electricity from renewable energy to 50 per cent by 2025, and 100% by 2045.  Inside Climate News has a summary of the renewable energy legislation; for a detailed view of the importance of California as a standard-bearer for climate change action, read “In the Face of a Trump Environmental Rollback, California Stands in Defiance” (Feb. 21) in Yale Environment 360.

Massachusetts is less often recognized for its leadership, despite its commitment in the  Global Warming Solutions Act, 2008 to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions 80 per cent from 1990 levels by 2050 .  In addition,  An Act to transition Massachusetts to 100 per cent renewable energy  (S.1849)  was  introduced into the legislature in January 2017, requiring  the state to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2035, and phase out the use of fossil fuels across all sectors, including heating and transportation, by 2050. Advocacy group Environment Massachusetts provides a summary here . The text of the Act   calls for a  Council for Clean Energy Workforce Development, specifying that it include representatives from organized labour, as well as universities and community colleges, renewable energy businesses, occupational training organizations, economic development organizations, community development organizations, and “organizations serving Environmental Justice Populations”.   A Workforce Development Fund would also be authorized, with “At least half of the funds spent from the clean energy workforce development account on an annual basis shall be spent on programs and initiatives that primarily benefit (1) fossil fuel workers displaced in the transition to renewable energy, (2) residents of gateway municipalities …., or (3) residents of areas identified as Environmental Justice Populations under the Environmental Justice Policy of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs. “

Health Impacts of Cap and Trade policies on California’s disadvantaged communities

Acting on a December 2016 Executive Order of Governor Gerry Brown, the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment released the first in a series of reports which will examine the impact of the state’s climate change programs on communities designated as “disadvantaged”.  The February report,  Tracking and Evaluation of Benefits and Impacts of Greenhouse Gas Limits in Disadvantaged Communities: Initial Report   measuring the effects of  the Air Resources Board’s Cap-and-Trade Program, which regulates greenhouse gas emissions from industrial facilities and other sources.  The report is largely based on 2014 emissions data, and warns that “limited data does not yet allow for comprehensive analysis of the impacts of Cap-and-Trade on disadvantaged communities”.   Initial findings however, are that  major industrial facilities are disproportionately located in disadvantaged communities;  there is a moderate correlation between GHG and other air pollutants, with refineries showing the strongest correlation.   California maintains  a planning and enforcement tool,  CalEnviroScreen, the “ first comprehensive, statewide environmental health screening tool” in the U.S.  In late January, California Air Resources Board   announced the appointment of its first Assistant Executive Officer for Environmental Justice, with a mandate to ensure that environmental justice and tribal concerns are considered in air pollution policy-making and decision- making.

2017: what lies ahead?

canada 150.jpgBecause 2017 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, dozens of progressive organizations, including unions,  have proposed an agenda for “ Canada’s Clean Growth Century” , under the slogan “Out with the old and In with the new”.  Read their proposals for a green economy, including Just Transition,  here  .  Clean Growth Century Facebook page is here.

For Canadians watching the environmental performance of the Trudeau government, one of the most important markers will be the outcomes of the Review of Environmental and Regulatory Processes, which is reviewing the National Energy Board, the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 . The report of the Expert Panel is scheduled for March 31, 2017.  Discussions and implementation of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change will roll along, debating carbon pricing policies – with the first  “deliverable” said to be an assessment of best practices to address the competitiveness of emissions-intensive, trade-exposed sectors.

Other articles that look ahead to the coming year’s events around the world – acknowledging but not dwelling on the Trump-effect, include: 2017 Climate Calendar: Key dates  at Climate Change News  ;  “In 2017, disruptive forces will shape climate action”  for an international overview with a European perspective ; and  “Where is environmental movement going in 2017?”    from Environmental Health News, which  looks at the Flint water crisis and Standing Rock pipeline protests and predicts “expect the push for environmental justice to center more around the issue’s intersections with racial, economic and environmental equality.”

Four Critical Energy Issues to watch in 2017”   highlights U.S. policies, including  the end of the U.S. coal leasing moratorium; repeal of the Clean Power Plan;   continued support for renewables, especially wind power;  and continued  massive transformation  in the U.S. electricity sector, led by state initiatives. And given President-elect Trump’s previous statements, one might add the approval of the Keystone Pipeline as a fifth likely development.

Why has the Dakota Access Pipeline become a divisive issue for U.S. Labour?

Protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota are continuing, according to Democracy Now on October 7.  On October 5, three U.S. federal judges heard arguments  over whether to stop the construction, but they are not expected to make a ruling for three or four months.  Meanwhile, Jeremy Brecher of the Labor Network for Sustainability released a new post , Dakota Access Pipeline and the Future of American Labor,  which asks “Why has this become a divisive issue within labor, and can it have a silver lining for a troubled labor movement?”  The article discusses the AFL-CIO’s  statement  in support of the pipeline, and points to the growing influence of the North America’s Building Trades Unions’ within the AFL-CIO through their campaign of “stealth disaffiliation”.  It also cites an “ unprecedented decision” by the Labor Coalition for Community Action,  an official constituency group of the AFL-CIO , to issue their own statement in support of the rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, in direct opposition to the main AFL-CIO position. The Climate Justice Alliance, an environmental justice group of 40 organizations, has also written to the AFL-CIO in an attempt to begin discussions.  Brecher’s article concludes that the allies and activist members of the AFL-CIO are exerting increasing pressure, and asks “Isn’t it time?” for a dialogue which will shift direction and build a new fossil-free infrastructure which  will also create jobs in the U.S.    For unions interested in supporting the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline, a sample resolution for local unions is available from the Climate Workers website.

New York State Climate Law incorporates Environmental Justice

Hurricane Sandy_Poweroutage_1

Power outages from Hurricane Sandy in New York City, 2012

The New York State Climate and Community Protection Act  was passed in the State Assembly on June 1 , and Inside Climate News calls it  “ the nation’s most ambitious climate change bill” .   The Bill was supported by NYC-Environmental Justice Alliance , as well as the Service Employees International Union.  It establishes aggressive mandates for ramping up the use of clean, renewable energy, and reducing climate pollution – and is most notable because it  prioritizes environmental justice goals. From the preamble,  it will:  “-shape the ongoing transition in the State’s energy sector to ensure that it creates good jobs and protects workers and communities that may lose employment in the current transition. -Setting clear standards for job quality and training standards encourages not only high-quality work but positive economic impacts; -prioritize the safety and health of disadvantaged communities, control potential regressive impacts of future climate change mitigation and adaptation policies on these communities.”

Green Jobs, Green Economies from a Social/Gender Justice Lens

A discussion paper released in February by the ILO and the Global Labour University provides a wide-ranging and well-documented global analysis of Green New Deal programs, green economies, and green jobs. Some excerpts: “…while advocates of the green economy promise the elimination of poverty, the green economy agenda is a new version of what has been described as finance-led accumulation and as such a continuation of the neoliberal project that has fuelled inequality during the past three decades”. Of green jobs, he observes, “statistical evidence suggests that many of the assumptions associated with green jobs are far too optimistic”. Referencing Austrian, EU, and South African studies, he states, “statistical evidence suggests that in terms of working conditions they (i.e. green jobs) are actually worse than average jobs…in sum, female workers are clearly disadvantaged when it comes to the distribution of the benefits from green growth”. Finally, “in sum, an alternative approach to a green transition towards a more sustainable economy and society must go beyond the goal of a thermal insulated capitalism and promote ecological, gender and social justice”. The author particularly discusses the importance of hours of work as a key factor in equality/inequality, and in ecological damage. Source: Green New Deal and the Question of Environmental and Social Justice.