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Good afternoon, and welcome to Globe Climate, a newsletter about climate change, environment and resources in Canada.
Last spring, when My Octopus Teacher won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, an idea that many scientists have long grappled with hit the mainstream: that octopuses, are smarter, more playful and more emotional than humans have ever imagined. But while researchers continue to study the octopus for its intelligence, companies are beginning to farm them for food on a large scale, calling into question whether octopus farming can be ethically, or humanely, done.
This is the question Erin Anderssen grappled with in her piece last week, which investigates the crossroads between human empathy for animals – very often confined to furry animals – and the meat industry.
Anderssen says reader feedback to the piece was illuminating, and at times critical. “I heard from many readers who said the octopus had indeed inspired them to larger questions. Others told me they had stopped eating it entirely,” she says. “Still another, chastised me – and rightly so – for admitting I still enjoy a juicy steak. As a Nova Scotian, I also love a good lobster dinner. But I don’t eat meat as easily as I once did, and it doesn’t have quite the same flavour. My choices today are imperfect and paradoxical. But maybe that’s okay. Every life change starts somewhere.”
After reporting the piece, Anderssen says she’s on new journey with her food ethics, and hopes readers might join her. “That’s pretty remarkable for a wild animal that we can’t even cuddle,” she says. “Perhaps we can hope, just a little, that we will yet learn to listen to the natural world, and take more care.”
Now, let’s catch you up on other news.
Noteworthy reporting this week:
- EVs: Canadians who want to make the switch to an all-electric car are held back by a lack of chargers. Also: David Suzuki makes the case for better charging infrastructure; how to purchase an electric vehicle on a budget; and an explainer on why EV chargers slow at 80 per cent.
- Fisheries: A growth in mining activity in British Columbia is putting salmon populations in the Pacific northwest at risk – a risk, scientists say in a new review, local authorities have underestimated. Meanwhile, hatcheries built in disused shipping containers are helping B.C. salmon stocks recover.
- Flooding: Canadians across the country are grappling with whether to return to communities severely damaged by flooding, or to retreat further inland. Later this year, when the federal government presents its strategy for climate adaptation, “managed retreat” will play a role.
- Agriculture: Canadian farmers are calling on the government to increase funding of sustainable agriculture to a recommended $300-million.
- From The Narwhal: Digital prospectors are staking private and First Nations land in B.C., often in less time than it takes for a cup of coffee to go cold.
A deeper dive
The ESG crisis
Jeffrey Jones is a reporter for Report on Business. For this week’s deeper dive, Jones talks about what the future holds for ESG.
It wasn’t all that long ago that ESG was the hot, new thing.
In the first part of the pandemic, environmental, social and governance principles became a massive influence on the business world, as society focused on its vulnerabilities – especially climate change. Tens of billions of dollars flowed into ESG-focused funds as investors sought out combinations of financial returns and righteous corporate behaviour.
But change can happen fast. In recent months, ESG as an investable asset class has come under fire. The energy crisis, driven partly by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has shown that renewables have yet to scale up to the point where they can take over from fossil fuels. Fears of a global recession have driven some investors away from long-term cleantech solutions in favour of stocks that offer immediate cash flow and stability.
In addition, right-wing politicians and business leaders, especially in the United States, have accused proponents of corporate sustainability of being leftists who are trying to undermine the corporate world’s ability to generate profit.
But what of Canada’s CEOs? They’ve spent the last few years immersed in doctrine that demands business activities meet toughening standards on climate risks, workforce diversity and a host of other non-financial metrics. Their boards have had to embrace these measures as part of normal governance, and ESG has become part of corporate culture.
For our Saturday Report on Business cover story, I asked top Canadian executives from various industries how they navigate these crosswinds that are battering ESG.
None of them said they are abandoning those principles, explaining that major investors still require companies to meet sustainability standards before they write cheques, and that the global regulatory landscape is only becoming stricter for disclosure of ESG issues.
However, there’s a strong view emerging that corporate sustainability is evolving into what one well-known portfolio manager calls ESG 2.0: Rather than being another cyclical investment target where money can flow in and out, ESG becomes a set of best practices for businesses across the economy.
What else you missed
- A baby orca spotted in B.C.’s waters has been given a name by researchers: the whale, part of the K Pod, will be known as K45
- KLM, the Dutch airline, has been sued for alleged greenwashing
- A tornado ripped through rural Alberta on Thursday, levelling one home and damaging several others. The weather event also brought with it hail pellets the size of chicken eggs
- The U.S. will remove tariffs on Canadian-made solar products. The tariffs were implemented in 2018 by then-U.S. president Donald Trump
- HSBC exec Stuart Kirk has resigned after a contentious speech in the spring during which he criticized those who play up the finance industry’s responsibilities for combatting climate change
Opinion and analysis
Eric Reguly: A wholesale retreat from the 2050 net-zero emissions goal appears underway. Blame Vladimir Putin
Jeffrey Jones: Natural gas and nuclear power are now considered green investments in the EU. Will Canada follow suit?
Adam Radwanski: Money could soon flow from countries such as Canada to the developing world to help fight climate change
Norm Allard and Neil Fletcher: A watershed renewal project at a B.C. First Nation is bearing fruit as wildlife begins to return
Catherine Collins and Douglas Frantz: The state of Canada’s beloved salmon has become awfully fishy
Canada’s second largest pension fund has an ambitious goal for a net-zero portfolio by 2050, and plans to get there in part through its practice of linking its employee pay to sustainability performance. Linking pay to sustainability performance is a powerful tool because bonuses are an important driver in the industry, says Bertrand Millot, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec’s head of sustainability. “We felt it was the right approach because it created opportunities as opposed to constraints. It also clearly demonstrated our commitment to our goals,” he says.
As companies are forced to take more aggressive action amid the public’s pandemic-era introspection on issues such as climate change, diversity and inclusion and human rights, stakeholders, including consumers, governments and shareholders, have been putting more pressure on companies to step up their ESG performance. ESG-linked pay incentives are one way to ease this pressure.
But such incentives are relatively new, and will evolve over time. Company executives and board members will need to determine more specific targets, related to their business and industry, to reach their unique goals.
We will be taking a break from publishing profiles this summer! But we’re still looking for great people to feature. Get in touch with us to have someone included in our “making waves” section for after Labour Day.
Do you know an engaged individual? 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
- Want to learn to invest sustainably? We have a class for that: Green Investing 101 newsletter course for the climate-conscious investor. Not sure you need help? Take our quiz to challenge your knowledge.
- We've rounded up our reporters' content to help you learn about what a carbon tax is, what happened at COP 26, and just generally how Canada will change because of climate change.
- We have ways to make your travelling more sustainable and 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
- How last year’s B.C. wildfires hit home for artist Brian Jungen
- 30,000 years of climate history on Mount Logan
- Bringing the climate fight to your kitchen
- Saving the song of Quebec’s chorus frogs