Two Marches in April: for Climate action and Science-Based Policy

In releasing its  most recent working paper , the Labor Network for Sustainablity (LNS) states : “On the eve of the second Peoples’ Climate March, we offer this as a contribution to the conversation that we must continue in earnest and move us to bold, decisive and immediate action.”  Comments are invited, as is participation in Labor Contingent of the People’s Climate March in Washington D.C. on April 29.  According to 350.org,  , more than 100,000 people have already RSVP’ed for the Washington March alone, as of April 13.   See information about the March in Toronto or Vancouver.

The LNS paper, Jobs for Climate and Justice: A Worker alternative to the Trump Agenda , describes  a Jobs for Climate and Justice Plan – a four-part strategy to defeat  the Trump ideas,  and develop  a climate-safe and worker-friendly economy.  Author Jeremy Brecher states that “protecting the climate requires a massive and emergency mobilization” comparable to the industrial transformation of World War 2.   The paper suggests ideas to create new climate-friendly jobs and protect the workers and communities who are threatened by climate change, and while most of these have appeared in earlier LNS publications , the sheer number of positive, concrete examples of worker  initiatives across the U.S. makes this an inspiring document .

According to an article in Common Dreams, “The Fights to Protect Science, People and Planet Are Inherently Connected” (April 6)   .  A  blog post from Legal Planet,  “The War on Science continues”  also makes clear how the Trump administration disregard for science is impacting climate change research, and how closely intertwined the two issues are.  So on April 22,  Earth Day, watch for or join the March for Science “the first step of a global movement to defend the vital role science plays in our health, safety, economies, and governments”. “….. We are advocating for evidence-based policy-making, science education, research funding, and inclusive and accessible science.”

ScientistsThe main Science March is set for  Washington D.C., but there are sister marches around the world, including in 18 cities across Canada . The Canadian organizers, Ottawa-based  Evidence for Democracy , state: “The politicization of science, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted”.  This is not just an American issue.  Canadians remember the muzzled scientists of the Harper era, and can see current examples  – Evidence for Democracy published a report on April 6, Oversight at Risk: The state of government science in British Columbia   – the first of several planned surveys of provincial government scientists . Some results:  32 per cent said they cannot speak to the media about their research; 49 per cent think said political interference reduces their department’s ability to create policies and programs based on scientific evidence.

 

Environmental Rights in Alberta and in Canada: do we have the rights we need? A legal discussion and some practical examples

In December 2016, the Environmental Law Centre in  Alberta  published a series of reports to review the current state of environmental rights in the province, drawing on examples and information from other jurisdictions.  These reports are intended as educational materials;  the website  is open for comments and input.  The first report,    Do we have the rights we need? , identifies deficiencies:   “Narrow standing tests for legal reviews and hearings; gaps and insufficiency in cost awards to support participation and informed decision making; failures to adequately recognize and manage cumulative environmental effects;  insufficient review or hearing options for policies, regulation and administration of environmental decision making; and insufficient tools for engaging public participation in enforcement.”

While most Environmental Rights discussions are about procedures for establishing and enforcing rights, the report Substantive Environmental Rights relates to the right to a specific environmental condition, such as a “healthy”, “healthful” or “clean” environment.  This report discusses definitions, which can be set in statutes or regulations.  The report includes a helpful comparative table of language from other Canadian jurisdictions.

Third Party Oversight and Environmental Rights reviews and analyzes the use of administrative third party oversight bodies in various frameworks and other jurisdictions. The report makes recommendations for the design of a third party environmental oversight system for Alberta, where currently the provincial Auditor General does not have a specific environmental mandate, but conducts financial audits or process/system audits of various environmental matters.

The latest report, published on December 19,  Citizen Enforcement considers the question of who can enforce environmental laws and what types of enforcement mechanisms are available to them – in Alberta, but also Ontario, Quebec, Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, and the U.S.    The  report concludes that citizen enforcement  in Alberta relies primarily on the use of private prosecutions and the ability to request an investigation of an alleged violation, and  recommends additional citizen-based enforcement tools to bolster  enforcement capacity and to ensure accountability.

As for practical examples of the need for citizen involvement in environmental assessments and decision-making, Canadians need look no further than the federal government’s  current review of the Environmental Assessment Processes .  “EA Review – Report back from a public workshop” at Evidence for Democracy describes one person’s experience at the Environmental Assessment public consultations and summarizes the main concerns of attendees – including the need for transparency, community and traditional knowledge, and open and independent science.  In two recent articles in DeSmog Blog,  scientists describe how their input has been ignored in past environmental assessments and decisions, including the TransMountain pipeline expansion decision.  Read  “Canadian Scientists Say They’re Unsure What Trudeau Means When He Says ‘Science’ ”  (Dec. 15)  and “Open Science: Can Canada Turn the Tide on Transparency in Decision-Making?”  (Dec. 20) .  Yet there is an eagerness amongst young Canadian scientists to become involved;  an Open Letter  to the Prime Minister in November, signed by 1,800 young scientists and researchers, calls on the government to return scientific integrity to the environmental assessment process, and outlines five ways to do that, including the use of best available evidence, making information and data available to the public, evaluating cumulative impacts of projects and eliminating conflicts of interest. See “Five Ways to Fix Environmental Reviews: Young Scientists to Trudeau” in DeSmog Blog (Nov. 15 2016) .

Climate change, Natural Disasters, and Mental Health

The WMO Statement on the Status of the Global Climate presents a depressing catalogue of statistics, including that 2015 was the  hottest year on record, with CO2 concentrations breaching the symbolic benchmark of 400 ppm. The Global Footprint Network released the 2016 edition of the National Footprint Accounts  , reveals that the global Carbon Footprint is 16 percent higher than previously calculated.    The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), the Catholic University of Louvain Brussels, and the U.S.  Agency for International Development released analysis of the human cost of disasters , showing that  98.6 million people worldwide were affected in 2015, and that climate was a factor in 92% of those events.  Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office estimates  that over the next five years, the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements program can expect claims of $229 million per year because of hurricanes, convective storms and winter storms and $673 million for floods, for a total of $902 million in Canada. To this litany of bad  news, add another cost: the mental health cost of climate change.

The issue is addressed in a recent three-part series of articles in the Toronto Star and raises the profile of the effects of climate change on the mental health of those most exposed and affected by it.  “Climate change is Wreaking Havoc on our Mental Health, Experts say”  (Feb. 28), discusses the mental health toll on environmental scientists and activists, provides links to studies, and applauds the American Psychological Association (APA) for taking the issue seriously (unlike the Canadian association). “For Normally Stoic Farmers, The Stress of Climate Change can be too much to bear”   (Feb. 28) highlights the plight of farmers, already recognized as having one of  the highest rates of occupation-related depression and suicide, and expected to worsen with increased frequency of  weather disasters of flooding and drought.    “Aboriginal Leaders are Warning of the Mental Health Cost of Climate Change in the North”   (Feb 29) portrays Northerners as front line victims of climate change .  The author of the series, Tyler Hamilton, calls on the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Psychological Association to acknowledge the issue and develop a position on the grounds that climate change stress is  both a public health concern and a factor in economic productivity.