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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/29/21

No, Alberta, Don't Be Sad. We Love You. Really.

Message Bill McKibben
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From New Yorker

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It's like getting a text from an old flame demanding to hear once again why you've broken up. The truth is, I'm not anti-Alberta in the least. I think that it's one of the most beautiful places on the planet, from the ice fields above Jasper to the great delta of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers in Wood Buffalo National Park.

I've lectured at its universities, hiked its trails, had Tegan and Sara high on my playlist. Lake Louise! Lake Minnewanka! The Calgary Stampede! Edmonton has the largest mall in North America. Calgary was once voted the world's cleanest city, edging out Honolulu. What's not to love?

Lay aside for the moment the devastation caused by mining the sludgy tar sands for oil. There's no way that a country with less than one percent of the world's population can lay claim to more than a quarter of the atmosphere.

Some of the retreat was purely financial: in a world that will need less oil, the attraction of going to a landlocked continental interior and trying to separate petroleum from sand is waning. But some of it was in response to those efforts -- banks and oil companies knew that the tar sands were in the spotlight.

The atmosphere can't distinguish Canadian carbon from any other kind; it all heats the planet.

Plenty of Albertans know that the planet is heating up -- in 2019, thousands of them joined Greta Thunberg at a climate rally in Edmonton -- but government and industry can't seem to escape from the dream that their oil boom could just keep going. In fact, they have proposed building a new export terminal in the Arctic Ocean, the ice in which is rapidly melting.

Born in Ireland, Deborah Brosnan came to the U.S. to earn her Ph.D. at the University of Oregon. Now an adjunct professor at Virginia Tech, she also runs a consulting company that helps corporations come to terms with international environmental law, among other things. It's a field that may be changing soon, as a panel of 12 international lawyers last month settled on a definition for "ecocide" to propose to the International Criminal Court. If the court adopts it, it would bring environmental crimes a step closer to being prosecuted there. (Our conversation has been edited.)

The timing of this definition comes when the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, at 419 parts per million, is the highest it has been in 800,000 years. Heat waves, extreme temperatures, rainfall, storms, and wildfires are becoming more extreme and frequent -- e.g., the current heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, estimated to have killed over a billion shoreline creatures along the beaches of Vancouver, B.C. Their deaths, in turn, will impact all species in that web of life. Humans are altering entire ecosystems at a large scale and to the point where these systems can no longer persist or provide ecosystem services (such as clean water, fisheries, storm protection, etc.).

The timing is also related to the growing debate and sense of social justice and equity, especially in relation to climate change. Communities in emerging nations and island states suffer disproportionately from climate change's impacts. But they did, and do, little to contribute to rising CO2 levels. They have few resources for mitigation or adaptation and no power to change the emissions or policies of those whose decisions impact their environment. Additionally, it is often the poor and indigenous communities that suffer most when ecosystems are damaged or destroyed, and who have least recourse.

2. The other feature is "wanton" -- the [ecocide] law would require a knowledge of the consequences of the actions on the environment and a decision to proceed with intent knowing the harm that would occur. If ecocide is adopted, there will be a plethora of cases filed that will start to test the boundaries of the law.

Climate School

â" Potentially important news from Somerville, Massachusetts, where a startup company, Form Energy, released new information on what would be a groundbreaking product: a battery that uses cheap iron, not pricey lithium. Because iron is heavy, this battery won't be for cars; instead, it could let utilities store lots of power for days on end, making renewable energy even more competitive with fossil fuels.

â" Writing in the Intercept, Naomi Klein does a fiery job of explaining how this summer's extreme weather seems to be reaching people in places that used to be considered safe.

Amazon Watch has issued an important new document explaining why corporations should not be making "net-zero" promises based on "protecting" the rain forest. These pledges don't, the organization points out, compensate for not actually emitting carbon, and, in any event, the forest offsets often end up damaging, not helping, indigenous Amazonians. Meanwhile, activists have launched a major campaign against plans by Brazil's President Bolsonaro to build a "grain train" with a thousand kilometres of track through the eastern Amazon.


When it comes to emissions, there are factories, airplanes, industrial food systems -- and, apparently, feral boars, which, by pawing through soil around the world, release carbon equivalent to that emitted by a million cars.

Warming Up

Take a look at these five short films from around the globe, focused on a "regenerative world." They are sponsored by the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's Little Sun foundation, which says, "Our aim is that these artworks help to turn an often data-driven and technically heavy conversation surrounding the global energy crisis into an open, intimate dialogue, creating accessible stories and new motivation for global change."

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Bill McKibben is the author of a dozen books, including The End of Nature and Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future. A former staff writer for The New Yorker, he writes regularly for Harper's, The Atlantic Monthly, and The (more...)
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