Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.
After the Labour Day long weekend, as the weather starts to cool down, you won’t have to be caring for your yard as much. But maybe there’s an argument for changing how you maintain your property in general.
The traditional lawn now finds itself at the confluence of two hot-button issues: climate change and Indigenous rights.
Some environmentalists, First Nations leaders and even hobby gardeners are calling for a different approach to how we treat urban green space. It is, they argue, a lasting symbol of how settlers appropriated Indigenous land and culture. Is it time to decolonize your lawn?
Now, let’s catch you up on other news.
Noteworthy reporting this week:
- A Canadian satellite has begun its long-awaited mission to search for excess industrial emissions of methane gas, a contributor to climate change. For Stéphane Germain, CEO of GHGSat Inc., the Montreal-based company behind Iris, the months of waiting melted away in the brilliant glare of the rocket’s exhaust.
- Species at risk in Canada are facing continued population declines and multiple threats that stand in the way of their recovery, a new report has found. The report, delivered on Wednesday by WWF Canada, combines data on 883 vertebrate species that are native to Canada, most of which are not considered at risk.
- A company seeking to expand its Alberta coal mine is taking the federal government to court, arguing Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson overstepped his jurisdiction to appease “political activists” when he decided to review the project. Wilkinson said the project would have “significant” environmental effects that fall under federal jurisdiction, triggering the need for an assessment.
A deeper dive
Some of Alberta’s oil sands tailings ponds are leaking into groundwater
Emma Graney covers energy from The Globe and Mail’s Calgary bureau. For this week’s deeper dive, she talks about the new “troubling” findings that some say are impossible to ignore.
That’s the conclusion of a new report from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) - an international organization created under the North American free-trade agreement.
The commission spent three years investigating the issue after two environmental groups and an individual Canadian resident accused Ottawa in 2017 of shirking its duties under the Fisheries Act by not prosecuting tailings leaks into the Athabasca River.
The report’s findings align with data from Syncrude and Suncor, which both showed “consistent evidence of seepage” from tailings ponds into some groundwater monitoring wells close to Athabasca River tributaries.
Yet Alberta swiftly characterized the report as an attack on oil and gas, with the taxpayer-funded ’war room’ huffing that industry has invested more than $10-billion on tailings management and new technology. Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney’s director of issues management, Matt Wolf, retweeted others calling the CEC a “cross-border group we’ve never heard of,” the report an “inside-the-wire hit job on the Canadian energy sector,” and stirred the ever-bubbling pot of east versus west discontent with criticism the CEC is attacking Alberta’s oil sands because it is based in Montreal.
The ball, now, is in Ottawa’s court. The federal government is in the midst of developing regulations on safe contamination levels from tailings ponds, while the environment department has boosted scientific research to differentiate between human-caused and natural bitumen contamination (a challenge in a region where bitumen-soaked sand oozes from riverbanks on a hot day).
Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson admits he’s no scientist. But he believes the report’s conclusions, and says it’s incumbent on his government and the province of Alberta to look at the issue seriously, and address it with urgency.
What else you missed
Climate change poses bigger economic risk than COVID-19 pandemic: With climate change posing an even bigger risk, the ECB must keep this issue high on its agenda as it reviews its policy framework, European Central Bank board member Isabel Schnabel said.
Three Greens in leadership race to replace former B.C. leader Andrew Weaver: Cam Brewer and Kim Darwin say Weaver inspired them to become Greens, while Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau says the three-member Green caucus has successfully influenced environmental, social and economic policies in the legislature.
IKEA stores owner Ingka accelerates investments to cut emissions: Ingka Group, the owner of most IKEA stores, plans €600 million ($932-million) in sustainability-related investments over the next 12 months as the world’s biggest furniture brand aims to be climate positive throughout its value chain by 2030.
Brazil Amazon fires likely worst in 10 years, August data incomplete, government researcher says: The official August data on the number of fires in Brazil’s Amazon needs to be corrected and will likely show an increase over last year.
B.C. puts taxes on hold to help on pandemic recovery: The Ministry of Finance says in a statement this year’s planned carbon tax increase from $40 per tonne to $45 per tonne has been deferred until next April.
Opinion and analysis
Canada needs to move faster on agricultural technology investment
Sean O’Connor: “To go from laggard to leader in agriculture technology, we need a strong Prairie startup ecosystem, new government programs to support agtech and an influx of private capital to help startups grow.”
How Canada’s oil and gas industries assist in the project of reconciliation
Ken Coates and JP Gladu: “But the achievements of Indigenous communities, companies and governments in becoming one of the front lines of reconciliation in Canada deserve much greater recognition.”
Here’s what readers had to say
A column written by the creators of the Energy vs Climate webinar and podcast series garnered an overwhleming response this week. Titled “The oil sands fundamentals are dire and stark – and Canada shouldn’t spend to revive a dying dream,” you might understand why. Here are some of the comments:
- Bert100: When the world is consuming 100 million barrels a day and assuming this does not grow any further it is only a matter of time till all oil will need to be extracted and need to be wrung from every bit of sand and rock.
- Excimer: It’s still the lifeblood of the global economy. Everything you and I and seven billion or so people more or less enjoy is predicated on cheap energy (or at least relatively cheap). Right now, that is oil. At some point, I believe that oil will be substantially displaced. And I support going to a hydrogen economy. But that will be a monumental task.
- Viking1001: The problem is the issue is so politicized that it is likely we will make poor decisions moving forward. The likely outcomes will be both limited environmental gains and a lower standard of living
- Eric de Kruyff99: Living in Calgary there is a lot of concern regarding the future of the province. Our legacy oil sands projects will produce cost effectively for decades but I don’t see much for new investment. This does not mean Alberta can’t participate in future green energy projects like the development of hydrogen, natural gas, and the technology behind these initiatives, and we would welcome investment in these areas from the federal government.
Each week The Globe profiles a person making a difference in Canada. This week we’re highlighting the work of Rina Clarke finding sustainable solutions for bath products.
My name is Rina Clarke, a bath and body enthusiast turned bath and body entrepreneur, based in Cambridge, Ont. Out of necessity in 2013, I started my company, Buck Naked, when my infant son was reacting to traditional bath and body products. It is my goal to help deliver holistically sustainable alternatives to the market.
In a previous life, I worked as an advisor at universities in the U.S. As part of this work, the mantra “Do What You Say You Will Do” was established. Today, it plays very much into our attitude toward sustainability. As our word is our bond, we look at it as our responsibility to look at every raw material, every formula and every practice to ensure we are doing what we say we will do.
A few months ago, a follower of ours suggested we not mix politics with business. My response to this individual was simply, “politics is our business.” At this time, businesses must be socially responsible as well as make fabulous products or offer amazing service. It would be irresponsible not to be. Corporate integrity is tied to individual integrity. Next, we are looking into more charitable initiatives for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Mental Health and Clean Water. We hope other businesses take the “Do What You Say You Will Do” approach as well.
Do you know an engaged young person? Someone who represents the real engines pursuing change in the country? Email us at GlobeClimate@globeandmail.com to tell us about them.
Photo of the week
Guides and Explainers
- We’ve rounded up our reporters’ content to help you learn about sustainable ways to live life at home, travel, invest, and generally to learn about our species at risk.
- If you like to read, here are books to help the environmentalist in you grow, as well as a downloadable e-book of Micro skills - Little Steps to Big Change.
Catch up on Globe Climate
- Finance and investing can’t self-isolate from climate change
- Canada needs a green recovery. Can Chrystia Freeland deliver?
- Big oil patch companies have a big reason to think more green
- Collapse of Canadian ice shelf a sign of a tipping point in the Arctic