Saturday, May 11, 2019

On definitive statements

Following up on this post, I'll take a step back point out how Scott Moe's insistence on attacking any carbon price through the courts is only enshrining in Canadian jurisprudence - in both the majority and dissenting decisions - some of the points he's trying to soft-peddle for the climate denialists in his base.

Moe has just barely reached the point of being willing to acknowledge the existence of climate change in public in a sentence or two before trying to change the subject. But it's well worth pressing to see whether he'll admit facts were as uncontroverted in the Court of Appeal's decision (including though the best argument Moe could muster to claim climate change isn't a matter of national concern) as they are in the scientific community.

To start with, the basic facts of the global crisis were set out by the majority after being accepted by all parties - including Saskatchewan (italics in original, underlining added):
[15] The general character of the GHG phenomenon and the basic science of climate change are not contested by any of the participants in this Reference. In simplest terms, planet Earth absorbs energy from sunlight. When that energy is emitted, GHGs capture some of it. This slows the escape of such energy into space and, over time, heats the atmosphere and the surface of the earth. These higher temperatures disrupt global climate patterns.

[16] The broad contours of the impact of anthropogenic emissions of GHGs and of the nature of the climate change issue are summarized in Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers [Climate Change 2014]. It was prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC], which was established by the United Nations Environmental Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. The IPCC, as described by John Moffet, Assistant Deputy Minister with Environment and Climate Change Canada, in his affidavit of October 25, 2018, is “the leading world body for assessing the most recent scientific, technical, and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to understanding climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options”. Climate Change 2014 concludes as follows:
(a) “Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems” (at 2).
(b) “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen” (at 2).
(c) “Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century” (emphasis in original, at 4).
(d) “Changes in many extreme weather and climate events have been observed since about 1950. Some of these changes have been linked to human influences, including a decrease in cold temperature extremes, an increase in warm temperature extremes, an increase in extreme high sea levels and an increase in the number of heavy precipitation events in a number of regions” (at 7).
(e) “Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems. Limiting climate change would require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions which, together with adaptation, can limit climate change risks” (at 8).
(f) “Surface temperature is projected to rise over the 21st century under all assessed emission scenarios. It is very likely that heat waves will occur more often and last longer, and that extreme precipitation events will become more intense and frequent in many regions. The ocean will continue to warm and acidify, and global mean sea level to rise” (emphasis in original, at 10).
(g) “Climate change will amplify existing risks and create new risks for natural and human systems. Risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development” (at 13).
(h) “Without additional mitigation efforts beyond those in place today, and even with adaptation, warming by the end of the 21st century will lead to high to very high risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts globally (high confidence). ...” (emphasis in original, at 17).
None of these conclusions were challenged or put in issue by the participants in this Reference.
And due to the position pushed by Moe, the majority decision also recognized the essential nature of both carbon pricing and multijurisdictional action in order to mount an effective response:
[147] What then of the idea of minimum national standards of price stringency for GHG emissions? Significantly, the factual record before the Court indicates that GHG pricing is not just part and parcel of an effective response to climate change. It indicates that GHG pricing is regarded as an essential aspect or element of the global effort to limit GHG emissions. The following unchallenged features of the record are noteworthy in this regard:
(a) “There is widespread international consensus that carbon pricing is a necessary measure, though not a sufficient measure, to achieve the global reductions in GHG emissions necessary to meet the Paris Agreement targets” (Moffet affidavit at para 46).
(b) “A well-designed carbon price is an indispensable part of a strategy for reducing emissions in an efficient way” (High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices, Report of the High-Level Commission on Carbon Prices (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2017) at 1).
(c) “There is a widespread trend in favour of carbon pricing … Overall, 67 jurisdictions … are putting a price on carbon” (Moffet affidavit at para 49).
(d) “The existing literature is highly convergent in finding that carbon prices that have been implemented around the world have been successful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions” (Nicholas Rivers affidavit affirmed October 5, 2018, at para 6(b)).
[156] All of this said, a good deal of the real significance of individual provincial failures to price GHG emissions to a minimum level plays out on a different plane. Climate change is a global problem and, accordingly, it calls for a global response. Such a response can only be effectively developed internationally by way of state-to-state negotiation and agreement. This, of course, is the story of the Framework Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Paris Agreement. In participating in these international processes, Canada is expected to make national commitments with respect to GHG reduction or mitigation targets. Those commitments are self-evidently difficult for Canada, as a country, to meet if not all provincial jurisdictions are prepared to implement GHG emissions pricing regimes – regimes that, on the basis of the record before the Court, are an essential aspect of successful GHG mitigation plans. This is not to suggest Parliament must somehow enjoy a comprehensive treaty implementation power in relation to the GHG issue. But, it is to say that the international nature of the climate change problem necessarily colours and informs an assessment of the effects of a provincial failure to deal with GHG pricing.
What's more, even the dissent which was supposed to have justified the waste of resources in challenging a backstop carbon price includes some of the definitive acknowledgment of the importance of climate change that's glaringly lacking in Moe's public statements and official actions:
[236] GHGs are gases that absorb and re-emit infrared radiation, the most prevalent of which is carbon dioxide [CO2]. GHGs are a significant contributor to climate change. For this reason, the parties and intervenors all agree that the governments of Canada and the Provinces must take steps to mitigate the anthropogenic emission of GHGs. Because none of the Attorneys General dispute the causative effect anthropogenic GHGs have on climate change or the attendant and existential necessity of mitigating anthropogenic GHG emissions, the proof or truth of these facts is not at issue. That is, they are proven and true.
[476] Before summarising our opinion, we would reiterate two points. First, we agree that all levels of government in Canada must take action to address climate change. The anthropogenic emission of GHGs is an issue of pressing concern to all Canadians and to the world. Second, Parliament has a number of constitutional powers, legislative means and administrative mechanisms at its disposal to achieve its objectives in this regard.
Needless to say, I'll be shocked if Moe is willing to publicly acknowledge the existential threat of climate change which he didn't even bother to dispute before the Court of Appeal. Instead, I'd fully expect him to keep pairing gross understatements of the threat of climate breakdown with disingenouous attempts to distract his audiences.

But if that's true, then Moe's loss in court has not only entrenched the federal carbon price, but enshrined in Canadian jurisprudence some of the truths about our climate crisis which he continues to deny. And Moe himself should only lose credibility for refusing to admit and act on the reality of climate change.

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Lana Payne discusses why we can't afford another Harper government - but also why we shouldn't merely accept the Libs as the only alternative no matter how dishonestly and angrily they try to limit our choices. And Tom Parkin highlights the need to empower social movements to shape our political system.

- The Economist discusses the range of new ideas developing among progressive thinkers in contrast to the pattern of stagnation and reactionary messaging on the right.

- Laurie Monsebraaten reports on the grim prospects of Ontarians with disabilities based on Doug Ford's imminent attacks on the province's social supports. And Alicia Bridges highlights similar uncertainty in Saskatchewan due to the Moe government's announcement of unspecified changes which they're not actually willing to present to the public.

- Meanwhile, Adam Hunter reports on the massive - and readily avoidable - travel bills being racked up by the Sask Party government which is inflicting cruel austerity on the province's citizens. And Anna Mikhailova and Charles Young point out how UK Conservative MPs are pointing to their adult children as an excuse to line their pockets with funding intended to defray child care expenses - even as they deny child care to parents who actually need it.

- Finally, William Snow writes from experience as to how the U.S.' elite universities serve as incubators for growing inequality of opportunity.

[Edit: added link.]

Friday, May 10, 2019

Musical interlude

Arcade Fire - Creature Comfort

Friday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your week.

- Astra Taylor points out that we should be far more concerned about a planetary carbon budget which actually involves inflexible limits, rather than delaying action in the name of avoiding spending on government balance sheets. J. David Hughes highlights how choices which subsidize and lock in fossil fuel production are incompatible with responsible climate policy. Mike Moffatt makes the case for an entrepreneurial mindset as a response to delay tactics. And Matt Gurney confirms that we shouldn't expect Andrew Scheer or any of his denialist cronies to start offering any viable plans to avert climate breakdown anytime soon.

- Don Pittis discusses how Canada has allowed itself to become a magnet for money laundering. And Richard Zussman reports on British Columbia's conclusion (based only on a partial assessment of the effect of foreign money) that its real estate market lone is being used to launder upwards of $5 billion per year.

- Steve Morgan argues that we shouldn't accept the spin of the pharmaceutical industry claiming that we have no choice but to pay inflated prices for essential medications.

- CBC News reports on the Canadian Paediatric Society's call for free birth control to be available to young Canadians. And Marie-Danielle Smith reports on the federal government's preliminary steps toward making menstrual products freely available in federally-regulated workplaces.

- Finally, David Macdonald writes that a basic income on its own won't fix the issues raised by precarious and poorly-regulated work.

[Edit: fixed typo.]

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Thursday Morning Links

This and that for your Thursday reading.

- Edward Keenan writes about the chaos being created by Doug Ford's reckless and thoughtless slashing of crucial public services.  CTV reports on one six-year-old cancer patient as just one of the many victims, while CBC News points out the global trend of increased alcohol use which Ford is going far out of his way to exacerbate. And Linda McQuaig offers a reminder that the destruction of social goods is no accident, but instead an intended consequence of Ford's choice to first sacrifice needed revenues to corporate idols.

- Larry Kusch reports on Brian Pallister's wasting of tens of millions of dollars on consultants while undermining Manitoba's public services. And David Climenhaga points out Jason Kenney's plan to spend his entire time in office trying to deflect blame to others, rather than making any attempt at delivering a functional government.

- Meanwhile, Rob Shaw reports on British Columbia's reductions in MRI wait times which show how investment in public health services - including by bringing private operators under the public system - results in the needs of citizens being met.

- Zaid Noorsumar examines how already-alarming official numbers of work-related injuries and deaths in Canada severely understate the problem.

- Finally, Bryan Carney reports on Facebook's longstanding awareness that its targeting advertising mechanism could be used to single out specific users without their knowledge or consent. And Chris Hughes makes the case to limit the monopoly power of Facebook and other tech giants which have assumed what amount to public utility roles.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Wednesday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Edward Kleinbard argues that citizens should be asking the question of whether markets actually serve society's best interests - while pointing out the compelling evidence to suggest they don't at the moment. And David Love writes about the increasing recognition among the exceedingly wealthy few that they can't expect the economic system to continue to be rigged in their favour.

- Meanwhile, Jake Johnson reports on the strike by Uber and Lyft drivers representing one of the largest and more important steps toward challenging worker exploitation in the gig economy. And Paul Willcocks argues that British Columbia's new protection for workers should be only the first of many steps in improving job quality.

- Peter Reuell writes about new research showing that inequality is growing both within and between geographic areas of the U.S., with structural inequality acting as a cause of increased geographic differences. And Pablo Uchoa points out how climate change has exacerbated economic inequalities.

- Kate Lyons reports on New Zealand's plan to reach a target of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while Peter Hannam notes that climate change is now the top issue in the minds of Australian voters. Jessy Bains discusses Mike Moffatt's research finding that tens of thousands of construction jobs which would be generated by even a small carbon pricing system, while Douglas Broom points out the plummeting costs of renewable energy. And Merran Smith and Trevor Melanson write about the importance of discussing climate policy in general rather than carbon taxes alone - though it's worth noting that even the full set of federal policies presented so far falls far short of the mark in averting a climate crisis.

-Finally, Richard Zussman reports on a new report showing that luxury cars have been used alongside real estate as part of massive money laundering in B.C.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Bagged cats.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- David Ball reports on the movement forming in support of a Canadian Green New Deal. Kyla Tienhaara discusses how it fits into the global push for a just transition away from dirty energy and carbon pollution. And Chris Packham points out the need to put well-developed environmental ideas into action.

- Kyle Bakx discusses how the fossil fuel sector is getting away with refusing to pay its bills. And Robyn Allan highlights how the Libs' Trans Mountain bailout is handing windfall profits to the oil sector at the public's expense, while Charis Kamphuis calls out Justin Trudeau for his general tendency to do the bidding of the corporate sector.

- Bruce MacLellan writes about the need to earn and build trust in Canadian institutions which are currently seen as credible on a partisan basis if at all.

- The Guardian's editorial board weighs in on the value of education in the humanities and the dangers of a government which seeks to undermine anything of the sort. And needless to say, Doug Ford is attempting to make Ontario into an anti-academic backwater by tying funding to profit motives and dubious metrics.

- Finally, Loenid Bershidsky points out how the Czech Republic's new system of digital taxes is ensuring that tech giants contribute to the society they mine for profits.

[Edit: fixed typo, wording.]

Monday, May 06, 2019

On sound rejections

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal's decision rejecting the Moe government's attacks on federal carbon pricing is worth a read in no small part for the general acceptance of a climate crisis by all parties when they were forced to rely on evidence rather than spin. But let's focus on how the majority judgment found the arguments asserted to challenge the federal backstop to be flawed from that starting point:
[51] Saskatchewan advances two main lines of argument in seeking to have the Act found unconstitutional. The first is that the principle of federalism prevents Parliament from enacting a statute applicable in only some provinces because of how those provinces have chosen to exercise their legislative authority. Saskatchewan’s second argument is that the Act imposes a tax and, because it allows the Governor in Council to decide where it applies, the Act offends the requirement in s. 53 of the Constitution Act, 1867 that bills imposing taxes must originate in the House of Commons. Saskatchewan goes on to deny that, as contended by Canada, the Act can be sustained under Parliament’s authority under the national concern branch of POGG.
[68] Saskatchewan has referred to no judicial authority which in any way directly supports the idea that the principle of federalism can or should independently render unconstitutional an otherwise valid law. Its argument on this front cannot succeed.
[111] In the end, Saskatchewan’s argument about the application of s. 53 of the Constitution Act, 1867 cannot succeed. The charges in issue here are not taxes in the constitutional sense of that term. However, if the charges are characterized as taxes, they do not violate s. 53.
And more fundamentally, on the need for climate policy to be subject to federal oversight rather than the whims of provinces acting in bad faith:
[156] All of this said, a good deal of the real significance of individual provincial failures to price GHG emissions to a minimum level plays out on a different plane. Climate change is a global problem and, accordingly, it calls for a global response. Such a response can only be effectively developed internationally by way of state-to-state negotiation and agreement. This, of course, is the story of the Framework Convention, the Kyoto Protocol, the Copenhagen Accord, and the Paris Agreement. In participating in these international processes, Canada is expected to make national commitments with respect to GHG reduction or mitigation targets. Those commitments are self-evidently difficult for Canada, as a country, to meet if not all provincial jurisdictions are prepared to implement GHG emissions pricing regimes – regimes that, on the basis of the record before the Court, are an essential aspect of successful GHG mitigation plans. This is not to suggest Parliament must somehow enjoy a comprehensive treaty implementation power in relation to the GHG issue. But, it is to say that the international nature of the climate change problem necessarily colours and informs an assessment of the effects of a provincial failure to deal with GHG pricing.

[157] It is true that the provinces, acting individually but cooperatively, could agree on a minimum national price for GHG emissions and thereby accomplish the same goal as the one sought by the Act. But this is not the point here. The point is that provinces could always withdraw from such arrangements and there is, accordingly, no assurance that coordinated provincial action would lead to a sustained approach to minimum GHG pricing.
Needless to say, though, no matter how soundly the Sask Party's political and legal positions have been rejected, it's always good news for Brad WallScott Moe.

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Sigal Samuel reports on Gary Bloch's work in prescribing secure incomes to address health problems arising out of poverty. And Murtada Haizer and Stephen Moranis point out the massive social and economic returns on investments in community housing.

- D.C. Fraser reports on the disproportionate amount of money the Saskatchewan Party is spending on maintenance for brand-new P3 schools, leaving far less funding available for publicly-owned schools which actually need it.

- The Leader-Post and Star Phoenix editorial boards rightly argue that Saskatchewan needs to treat its youth mental health crisis as an emergency rather than a minor inconvenience.

- Celine McNicholas and Lynn Rhinehart point out the efforts by U.S. Democrats to give workers a somewhat more fair change to organize to change their workplaces for the better.

- Pete Evans reports on the reality that Canada's digital economy is already larger than most industries based on exploiting natural resources.

- And finally, Andrew Stevens highlights how immigration-bashing and prejudice against minority groups threaten Saskatchewan's future.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sunday Morning Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Mike Benusic points out that the success of public health programs is found in the absence of preventable illnesses and dangers - meaning that Doug Ford's slashing of Ontario's funding is likely to lead to far more health costs in the long run:
(P)ublic health isn’t in the business of patient care. Patients only become patients when they are sick. By preventing disease and promoting health, public health prevents people from becoming patients – by keeping the bridge sturdy so they never fall in the water. From the child who never had to go to the emergency room with measles because they were vaccinated, to the senior who was never hospitalized with food-poisoning because of restaurant inspections, public health works silently in the background.

The invisibility of the impact of public health is also its greatest weakness. When public health is working, nothing happens. So, often and now, funding is cut or diverted into more immediate needs – such as hospital beds. But by doing so, we undermine the system that prevents people from being in the hospital in the first place.

Thankfully, there is a wealth of evidence that makes the invisible impact of public health tangible. One analysis of the impact of local public health showed that for every dollar that’s spent, $4 is saved. Investing $10 per person per year in programs promoting physical activity, nutrition and reducing tobacco use can reduce diabetes and high blood pressure by  five per cent in one to two years, heart disease and stroke by five per cent in five years, and some forms of cancer and arthritis by 2.5 per cent in 10 to 20 years. These are some of the leading causes of hospitalization in Ontario. By preventing people from becoming sick in the first place, there would be no need for more hospital beds.

With massive cuts to local public health, it is clear that the government doesn’t feel that public health has a role in ending hallway medicine. Ironically, it may be the best solution.
- Muhannad Malas writes about Ford's elimination of Ontario's laws governing toxic pollution, while Kate Allen exposes the PCs' attack on protections for endangered species buried in a housing bill. Katie Nicholson and Joanne Levasseur report on the underfunding of Manitoba health inspectors under the Pallister PCs. And Mike De Souza reports that Jason Kenney's response to the abandonment of 4,700 wells by a defunct gas operator is to try to push for even more free handouts to the fossil fuel sector.

- MiningWatch studies how resource extractors are using trade deals to undermine environmental protections in developing countries. Barry Saxifrage points out that the Libs' current plans stand to fall centuries behind Canada's already-insufficient Paris emission targets. And Angela Carter laments Newfoundland and Labrador's decision to endanger its environment and economy in an attempt to chase oil revenues.

- Helen Briggs, Becky Dale and Nassos Stylianou chart the global environmental emergency (including but not limited to a climate crisis).

- Finally, Leo Gerard discusses the importance of a Green New Deal which protects both working conditions and the environment - while also pointing out the role the labour movement needs to play in helping to develop a transformative plan for our society.