You’ve probably seen some of the disinformation — howls of outrage about a purported new climate mandate on fertilizer use, an impending “attack on farmers.” If the algorithms have you pegged a certain way, you’ll have seen a whole lot of it — federal “fertilizer cuts” that will drive food prices up, farmers into ruin and leave us all eating bugs.
It’s a classic disinformation playbook. Industry plants a sky-is-falling report, which is laundered through the echo chamber of Postmedia outlets and amplified by pro-fossil fuel outfits like Canada Proud and Oil Sands Action. Poilievre and conservative premiers jump in, promoting the claims and harvesting the crop of outrage, donations and data.
Whether or not the government should be cracking down on nitrogen fertilizer, in fact, the feds are doing no such thing. They have explicitly ruled out any mandatory rules for fertilizer use. Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan envisions almost no change at all in agricultural emissions (a measly 2.7 per cent reduction for the entire category of land use, forestry and agriculture over 10 years). Last year, the federal government said it would develop a voluntary program to encourage more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizer and climate-friendly farming techniques.
But an investigation by Canada’s National Observer shows “disinformation and conspiracy theories about Canada’s fertilizer reduction strategy have run rampant online.” Marc Fawcett-Atkinson analyzed 1,000 Facebook posts over the past year. Poilievre tops the list of politicians and political parties who posted on the issue.
"This is exactly how the polarizing echo chambers that now dominate our media and public sphere are built and sustained, pulling audiences into right-wing networks in which the merchants of fake populism in media and politics reinforce each other’s appeal," said Shane Gunster, a Simon Fraser University communications professor who studies links between industry lobbies, politicians and extractive populism.
Stoking fear and anger among farmers is a particularly noxious move. Our food providers are already caught in a climate vise. Food production is responsible for about one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meanwhile, climate impacts are already hammering the food supply and the livelihoods of those who feed us.
Just last year, drought cut the harvest of Western Canadian field crops by more than 40 per cent. Farmers in Saskatchewan suffered a 48 per cent drop in wheat production.
If you ask climate experts about their greatest fears, many will turn ashen and begin talking in hushed tones about simultaneous bread basket failures around the world. The fear is so widely shared, they’ve developed a shorthand for it in food and climate circles, an acronym I wish I’d never heard: MBBF (Multiple Bread Basket Failures).
We’ve become highly dependent on a small handful of crops. Wheat, rice, corn and soy make up almost half the calories of an average global diet. And that concentration extends to the geography of supply.
What you’ll notice on that map is the concentrated growing regions are all already under climate stress. All have suffered major drought or inundation in the past two years, many have suffered both.
We desperately need responsible politics to navigate this landscape instead of demagogues who see fertile ground for rage farming.
This week, Global News revealed Poilievre’s team has been embedding the tag “MGTOW” (Men Going Their Own Way) in his YouTube videos and has been doing so for four and a half years. It’s a misogynistic, male supremacy tag, fiercely anti-feminist, used in a way that’s invisible to the public, and designed to drive his videos to the incel crowd.
Poilievre enthusiastically courted the anti-vax trucker convoy leaders who sought to overthrow the government, and marched and posed with “militant accelerationists” from the Diagolon movement. Alex Jones recently gushed over Poilievre’s leadership victory, listing him along with Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni as proof “we are rising.”
Years before the convoy occupation of Ottawa, Frank Graves was warning us not to be sanguine about authoritarian populism only being a force in the U.S. and more far-flung places. Graves is the founder of Ekos Research and he’s been tracking “Northern Populism” with an index derived from the system Theodor Adorno developed to dissect and explain the rise of 20th-century European fascism.
He finds a dangerous intersection between concerted disinformation and political leaders like Poilievre encouraging, promoting and fuelling Northern Populism.
Graves finds those intending to vote for the current incarnation of the Conservative Party of Canada are 900 per cent more likely than other Canadians to think everything about climate change is exaggerated. Poilievre has harnessed the authoritarian outlook: his supporters are “dramatically more likely to be disinformed, mistrusful, exhibit authoritarian outlook, endorse the freedom movement, deny climate change,” Graves summarizes.
And Graves has also been warning that the move to a post-carbon economy will become a prime focus for Northern Populists as they shift their call for “freedom” from vaccine mandates to climate policy.
Northern Populism is part culture war but it’s also magnified by real and legitimate anxiety over wealth inequality and economic insecurity.
And it’s on this front that the current federal government could mount a much bolder effort to defang the reactionary right by building a more inclusive, forward-looking economy. We could look back at effective examples like the New Deal.
Or, right now, we should be looking southwards to the U.S where many hundreds of billions have been mustered for a suite of programs to tackle inflation, economic despair and climate change all at once.
The American Inflation Reduction Act is likely to pour over $800 billion (!) into clean energy — double the initial estimates — retrofitting buildings and electrifying the U.S. economy. And two lesser-known bills have already passed as well — the Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act. “The climate economy is about to explode,” argues The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer.
That kind of spending has the potential to reshape politics, creating new constituencies whose personal and family interests are tied to a cleaner economy.
How could we find the money in such difficult economic times? The American program is funded by raising the tax rate on billionaire corporations, taxing corporate share buybacks and cracking down on wealthy tax cheats.
Just the kind of economic populism that might stand a chance against its hard-right Northern counterpart.
If you’re interested in diving further into the American Inflation Reduction Act, I highly recommend Ezra Klein’s podcast with Princeton’s Jesse Jenkins. And if you want more on Frank Graves and Northern Populism, here’s the link to Northern Populism, Causes and Consequences of the New Ordered Outlook. It’s a dense paper and you can also get the gist from Markham Hislop’s interview with Frank, here.
Before we get into the Roundup for this week, I have a correction to make. Last week, I wrote that “pipelines under construction would wrap twice around the world.” That’s not true. They would reach through the Earth and back. Apologies to you and especially my elementary school math teachers who did properly explain the difference between circumference and diameter.
The world’s biggest reinsurance company adopted an exit policy for oil and gas this week. It’s a big deal. Munich Re is so big it underwrites about 13 per cent of the entire global economy and the venerable Lloyd’s of London is just one of its many syndicates. As of April 2023, Munich Re will no longer insure or invest in new oil and gas fields or midstream projects.
So far this year, 43 per cent of the global reinsurance market has restricted coverage for expansion in the oil industry, according to calculations by Peter Bosshard, finance director at the Sunrise Project. The point appears to be sinking in: it’s perverse to fuel the destruction you’re insuring against.
Canada’s insurance giants have yet to act. Despite their net-zero promises, John Woodside reports that Sun Life and Manulife, “two of the country’s biggest investors — surpassing the size of Canada’s largest banks with a combined C$3 trillion in assets under management — invested more in coal this year than last.
“Sun Life was responsible for 222 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, while Manulife was responsible for 277 million tonnes. To put that in perspective, Ontario and Quebec’s combined emissions in 2020, the most recent year available, were 225.8 million tonnes.”
Ontario (almost) replaced efficiency funding
The Ford government claimed to be “saving” $442 million when it cut demand reduction programs in 2019. Now faced with an energy crunch, the province suddenly announced $342 million.
After scrapping 750 renewable energy projects when it first took office in 2018, the Ford government is now scrambling: this week, it delayed the shutdown of the Pickering nuclear plant and asked the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) to figure out how it might “secure clean-energy resources.”
Alberta UCP replaced Kenney
Danielle Smith will be the new premier of Alberta. In her acceptance speech, she vowed a new, more combative approach. Apparently Jason Kenney’s “fight back” strategy was too weak in supporting the fossil fuel industry, and too accommodating with Ottawa. Buckle up, folks.
The CEO of Shell called on governments to impose a windfall tax on oil company profits. Ben van Beurden told the Energy Intelligence Forum: “There needs to be government intervention that somehow results in protecting the poorest… Governments need to tax people (companies) in this room to pay for it."
‘Global warming is killing everything’
There’s been more rain in Las Vegas, on the edge of the Mojave Desert, than in Vancouver and along the “wet coast” over the last three months.
William Housty is the Heiltsuk Nation’s conservation manager. “Nobody in the community has ever seen anything like this before,” he says.
There are definitely tens of thousands of dead salmon in that one reach — one biologist estimated 65,000 dead before spawning. The fear is that similar scenes are happening up and down the West Coast, on parched rivers that don’t have First Nations Guardians on patrol.
Burning forests for energy
Canada’s wood pellet industry is scrambling after the BBC aired a documentary about Drax, the company running a wood-burning power station in the U.K. Drax claims it only uses wood waste, but the BBC crew filmed clear-cuts in British Columbia’s primary forests and followed whole trees to pellet mills.
Drax has been buying up Canadian companies and logging licences — it controls 82 per cent of Alberta’s pellet output and will soon control over two-thirds of B.C.’s, Natasha Bulowski reported in February. New Brunswick produces about 500,000 tonnes of pellets per year, most also shipped to Drax.
COP & Coke?!?
I regret to inform you, this is not a bit from The Onion.
“Over four years, we’ve found Cola-Cola to be the world’s top plastic polluter in our annual brand audits,” said Break Free From Plastic’s Emma Priestland. “It’s astounding that a company so tied to the fossil fuel industry is allowed to sponsor such a vital climate meeting.”
New York to ban new gas-powered cars
Following California’s move in August, New York’s governor announced regulations against the purchase of anything but zero-emission cars by 2035, with intermediate steps in 2036 and 2030. The state’s governor also unveiled requirements for an all-electric school bus fleet by 2035.
California is the most populous state in the U.S., with about 40 million people. New York has around 20 million.
Climate activists from Divest Princeton have convinced the university to “dissociate” (what an Ivy League phrasing) its $37-billion endowment from fossil fuels. Princeton’s board of trustees published an initial list of 90 companies focusing on “the most-polluting segments of the industry and on concerns about corporate disinformation campaigns.”
Doubling down on electric school buses
The U.S. EPA is increasing the amount of money for electric school buses to $1 billion — almost twice the previous amount.
Every new home in Tokyo
Energy in the air
How we’re going to store energy is a big question as we transition to a renewable grid with lots of intermittent sources. Most places don’t have the big hydro of some Canadian provinces and, while batteries are being installed on grids worldwide, it’s not clear that they alone will do the trick. One major solution is squishing air and releasing it later (along with the heat from compression) to spin turbines. China just turned on the world’s biggest compressed air facility, connecting a 100 MW system to the electricity grid.
But it won’t hold the record for long. Toronto-based Hydrostor Inc., is building two even bigger compressed-air energy storage facilities in California.
That’s all for this week. Thank you for reading Zero Carbon. Please forward it along and always feel free to write with feedback or suggestions at [email protected]
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