An almost identical version of this post was sent to the editors of The Star Phoenix today, which is why this post is in the "open letters" category, among others. In the process of re-reading, I noticed that many of my recent posts have involved the environment in some way, so I've added "environment" as a category.
The opinion piece by retired TC Energy executive Dennis McConaghy (Star Phoenix, 2 Dec. 2020, p. A8, and here at the Calgary Herald) appears to misunderstand the concept behind Bill C-12 and its stated goal of achieving “net-zero emissions” by the year 2050. Quite possibly it is less a misunderstanding and more an example of industrial misinformation meant to hamper the efforts to deal with climate change until a less responsive government is elected.
McConaghy implies that “net-zero” means, as he puts it, the “elimination of fossil fuels.” Elimination means “the complete removal or destruction of something,” according to my dictionary. That is not what “net-zero emissions” means. “Net” is an adjective that means what is “remaining after the deduction… or other contributions.” “Gross” means the “total” or the “complete” amount. The federal government’s plan is not to reach “gross-zero emissions.”
The plan is to factor in offsets to the burning of fossil fuels, such as the planting of trees, which act as carbon sinks and sequester carbon in forests and, quite often, building materials. No one seriously expects energy-intensive jet airplanes, transport trucks, and construction or farming equipment to work without the raw power of fossil fuels immediately, though that might eventually happen.
Instead, the idea is to limit fossil-fuel use to the essentials, and shift less-essential uses to greener energy. Most of us drive cars or small trucks that can easily be switched to electricity, and we can generate that electricity with solar-power installations, wind power, geothermal energy, even the more hotly debated nuclear energy. Near oceans, wave power is in development too.
People everywhere and in all walks of life, young and old, liberal and conservative, are more and more concerned about climate change. Even energy companies such as Shell are hoping for net-zero by 2050.
The title of McConaghy’s piece demands “justification for [the] PM’s net-zero plan,” as if it were not obvious to anyone reading and watching credible news these days. The justification is climate change or, if you prefer, climate crisis and climate emergency. What McConaghy actually questions, as the piece later makes clear, is the legitimacy of the plan, because he thinks that a net-zero plan should be accepted “only… after a federal election” serving as a “referendum.”
Demanding a referendum is a stalling tactic. Many Canadians are ready for a dramatic shift in energy. That’s one reason why we didn’t elect a government that had no plan for the environment. McConaghy’s piece is potentially deceptive, with the potential result of delaying a shift that must be taken seriously now, not after another federal government gets another term of doing too little.
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. "'Net-Zero Emissions' and Industrial Misinformation." Publicly Interested, 2 Dec. 2020, www.publiclyinterested.weebly.com.
Dear Premier Dwight Ball and Minister Eddie Joyce,
Partly because of China's plan to stop buying recyclables from countries such as Canada by the end of 2017, there is a new and urgent need to stop wasting so much plastic and start banning single-use plastic bags. I am writing to you today to support Municipalities NL, which is calling for a ban on plastic bags because mayors around the province do not believe that a ban is possible without your help. Plastic bags, especially for groceries and other shopping, are harming us, other species, and our environments. If we can't recycle them, we have to ban them.
We have proven that we can't recycle them effectively; 91% of plastic is never recycled. In some places, such as most of Canada, we try to recycle bags by collecting them and often by shipping them to China, but we leave a carbon footprint from the transportation and the energy needed to remake the plastics. This is one of the reasons why we haven't started a recycling program for plastic bags in Newfoundland and Labrador. And so we have to ban them.
Even when we try to divert the bags to a nearby landfill, we fail miserably. Images have been circulating of the "Plastic Bag Forest" near the scenic East Coast Trail and Robin Hood Bay—the trees acting as a filter to catch airborne plastic bags. Whales have been found dead with many plastic bags in their stomachs—in one case, 30 bags. For many species, like up to 90% of sea birds and presumably including people, ingesting plastic has become inevitable; this summer, a new plastic-ridden ocean zone as big as Mexico was discovered in the Pacific. You read that correctly: as big as Mexico. There are several other massive zones of floating plastic in the world's oceans. There is no other explanation except that humans are laying waste to land and sea.
We behave so abhorrently for a lot of reasons, but I refuse to believe that it's simple ignorance or a lack of conscience; I think we do it because it's traditional to a capitalist society to accept the idea of surplus value and thus, maybe illogically, of waste; and, more important, it's convenient. If you do propose a ban, many people will object on this reason alone. When the ban came into effect in California, I saw a man on the news who said that no one had the right to make his shopping more difficult. If we can't convince him to change his behaviour as a consumer, we need to change the behaviour of suppliers, such as grocery stores. We can all learn that it's easy to carry reusable bags and use them for most of their shopping.
Meanwhile, I am so tired of our inaction on plastic. (Bagged! In a previous open letter, I wrote to major airlines to find out why they don't recycle plastic cups on flights into Toronto, Canada's busiest airport.) Yet we have alternatives. I fold up a small recycled-plastic bag and put it in my knapsack for those times when I'm not planning on going to the grocery store but do anyway. We can leave fabric bags in our vehicles and bring them into stores with us. Now, an Australian initiative called Boomerang Bags has come to St. John's (and all over Australia, the United States, and elsewhere), and they leave recycled cotton bags to be borrowed and returned at many different stores, such as Food for Thought downtown.
I would love us to be leaders rather than followers of Australia and innovative cities like Montreal, but there is no shame in gaining confidence from someone else's good idea. With the Green Party starting to find support in the Maritimes, and with several newly elected progressives on the City Council of St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador might someday soon have more politicians who are listening to the many citizens who believe that we are failing future generations—not only people but other animals: whales, sea birds, polar bears, sea turtles, and even a lobster caught last month in New Brunswick with a Pepsi logo nearly fused into its claw.
Don't we care?
We need to act. Please write a new law that will ban plastic bags here too.
Many will gratefully support you.
PS. While we're at it, we should create local industries for recycling what we can't ban, such as glass—an easily reusable and recyclable material. Why can't we do that here?
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. “Bagged: It's a Big Job, but Someone Needs to Ban Plastic Bags.” Publicly Interested, 3 Dec. 2017, www.publiclyinterested.weebly.com.
P.S., World Leaders at Airlines
In a post several weeks ago, I lamented the lack of onboard recycling on Toronto-based flights, and I called upon airline executives to allow passengers (like me) to volunteer to move recyclable items off planes and into airports where recycling bins exist. A manager wrote to me to respond to my blog and placed the blame at the feet of the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, both of which supposedly prohibit recycling on those flights to prevent contagion.
The more I think about it, the more I doubt this claim.
Do recyclables really spread disease? Germs do stick to plastic cups and aluminum cans, but they also stick to tray-tables, armrests, and windows (maybe even fabrics) that are probably not all disinfected between flights.
And can the recyclables possibly be a significant risk compared to, or even in addition to, human beings? We are the ones who spread disease. It's on our skin, our breath, and in our blood and bodily fluids, and we're not going through quarantine every time we pass through Toronto. (If you've heard Toronto described as a sort of quarantine or culture-free zone, it's not; it's a good city.)
The conspiracy theorist in me imagines all too easily how convenient a ban on recycling might be to airlines, the CBSA, and the CFIA. By banning recycling, they can save money on sorting used items and claim to be reducing the risk of pandemics by protecting borders and food supplies.
I'll try to find a study that might have been the basis of this highly questionable policy. In the meantime, I'll be scratching my germ-ridden head.
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. “P.S., World Leaders at Airlines.” Publicly Interested. 14 Mar. 2016. Web. [date of access]
Update 2/16/2016: Partly in response to this blog, the manager of environmental sustainability in Air Canada's Environmental Affairs Department wrote to me two days ago to claim that, at 8 of 9 airports in Canada, the company does in fact separate and recycle its onboard waste. The exception is Toronto's Pearson International Airport, which follows rules enforced by the Canada Border Services Agency and set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Preventing the spread of disease is their goal. The manager at Air Canada assures us that the company is trying to agree with the CBSA and the CFIA to expand their recycling, and she asks that we write to the CFIA to express our concerns about a systemic solution to the embarrassing destruction of recyclables. (Further update: Having pondered this awhile, I wrote this postscript.)
Dear World Leaders,
Last week in Paris (mid-December, 2015), leaders from around the world negotiated the first universal agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and avoiding catastrophic climate change. Today, I call on you as world leaders too—leaders of a globalizing industry—to let me help you do your part.
Once upon a time, and for a short time, I was in management, where we had the jargon of "the take away." As you know, it's the proposal that one might remember from a presentation or executive summary. I want to suggest that you remember this: airlines must do more to mitigate climate change—and I'll help! I volunteer to take away the recyclables (a sort of double take away) on airplanes on which I travel and actually recycle them, rather than destining them to a future of burial or incineration.
The world is burning up. 2015 will be the hottest year on record, and yet we continue (more literally than with the world) to burn things that contribute to global warming.
The jet fuel we burn while travelling with you has, at present, environmental consequences that are inevitable results of choosing to fly, but there are many that we can avoid. Every day, airlines use cups and cans numbering in the many millions, many of which are incinerated rather than recycled. In Scientific American not long ago, David Farley wrote that “[t]he U.S. airline industry discards enough aluminum cans every year to build nearly 58 Boeing 747s and enough paper to fill a football field–size hole 230 feet deep—that’s 4,250 tons of aluminum and 72,250 tons of paper.”
The Canadian industry is proportionally no better and is in some ways worse, because some major American airlines do recycle some of the stuff on their planes—but Air Canada and WestJet presently do not, at least on my recent flights to and from Toronto. Such enormous waste is unconscionable, and every time I forget my reusable water bottle at home I feel guilty if I need water on board. (I feel guilty about not buying carbon offsets these days too, but that's a slightly different issue.)
Although consumers have little control over jet fuel consumption except their choice not to fly, to fly less, or to fly with less baggage (a lighter load meaning less fuel consumption), we have plenty of choices on the airplane itself. We could boycott in-flight purchases that involve wasted recyclables, but, as we are taught to do when hiking in national parks, we could instead take away our recyclables into the airports, which do have infrastructure for recycling.
Shouldn't your employees be doing that? (And is a plane in the air anything like a national park?) But since they're not, or at least not consistently throughout your business, your customers could do it. Knowing it can start with one, I proposed to volunteer on my December business and pleasure flights to take all recyclables from the airplane to local recycling facilities, but the flight attendants said they had no resources (presumably enough staff and time) to separate the recyclables from garbage and to collect them. This is where we need your help. Flight attendants need their executives and managers to say that they should take time to separate the recyclables. It seems as simple as having one bag for recyclables and one for garbage—many bags of each, of course, and enough people to move them.
The responsibility is not only mine. You as world leaders are in a better position than me to make a systemic improvement, but I'm part of the system. Say the word, and I'll move the recyclables off the plane.
[Unsuccessful attempts were made to reach Klaus Goersch (the Air Canada Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer responsible for efficiency) with this suggestion, prior to my Christmas-related flights in 2015.]
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. "Open Letter to World Leaders at Airlines." Publicly Interested. 16 Dec. 2015. Web. [date of access]
Dear Prime Minister,
Yes, young Trudeau, there is a Santa Claus. At the risk of being facetious, I want to draw attention to the big gift that you and the Liberals received when you won this 2015 election: a legitimacy not too different from that of the Conservatives when they had their “majority.”
My concern is how (even just “that”) our electoral system bequeaths a “majority” on parties that have less than 50% of the popular vote. You've been a teacher—so how would you manage a vote in the classroom on (say it like Gandalf) who shall not pass? Would 4 of 10 students be allowed to make the decision as if they were the majority?
The distortion of representation is an undeniable problem. You can be one of the rare prime ministers who legislates against his own short-term gain for long-term change. You can finally enable a system that recognizes the relatively small differences between some parties in the popular vote, such as 8% between the Liberals and Conservatives, and 12% between the Conservatives and the NDP. Recognition of the small margins would reduce the embarrassing “democratic deficit” in Canadian politics. Young people probably voted in bigger numbers this time because they think you'll represent them, even if they are not major players in the economy (yet).
I'm younger than you, too, but I have more than enough cynicism for politics to make the bad joke above about your age. Hoary old men really did give us a system.
Before your election, you committed to an end to it, the first past the post system—the system that allows a party with 38% of the popular vote to win a “sweeping majority” and claim a “strong mandate” to shift the direction of the entire country by appealing almost always to the economy and the spectre of job loss. Among the options of ranked ballots and proportional representation, the latter is more democratic. If democracy depends on representation of and by the people, and if it thrives when the people and their representatives debate, discuss, and—yes--compromise, proportional representation is the choice for me. And, I hope, you.
Proportional representation will lead to minority governments, which are much maligned by people who claim to want “effective” governments. In the past decade, however, I have been very concerned, as it were, rather than thankful for the effectiveness of the Harper government. I would prefer that no party could make massive changes to our country without a parallel majority or, as you have also suggested, a referendum that reveals voters’ preferences regardless of their political affiliation.
We could have referendums to let us act quickly on issues with broad public support, and slow and steady politics for all the issues that really need compromise. In the coming months, time will fly and proportional representation will need to be an immediate priority. But, after that, please relent a little so that democracy goes well (e.g., no omnibus bills). Remember that many of us want to turn back the clock to another historic election: that of 2006.
On the occasion of your first day in office, November 4, 2015, I wish you a Merry Christmas—and a happy new democracy before the next federal election.
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. "Open(ing) Letter." Publicly Interested. 4 Nov. 2015. Web. [date of access]
Joel Deshaye is a professor of English literature with an interest in publics, publicity, celebrity, mass media, and popular culture.