Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Antimicrobial Resistance: Global Report on Surveillance 2014

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi. Details here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Climate Change: Don't Wait Until You Can Feel it

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence for the impending dangers of human-made climate change, policy decisions leading to substantial emissions reduction have been slow. New research shows that even as extreme weather events influence those who experience them to support policy to address climate change, waiting for the majority of people to live through such conditions firsthand could delay meaningful action by decades. Full story here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Does El Niño Plus Global Warming Equal Global Temperature Records This Year and Next?

An El Niño appears increasingly likely this year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). If it starts relatively quickly, then 2014 could well be the hottest year on record. But if it is a strong El Niño, then 2015 would likely break all previous global records. Details here.
In January of 2011, I wrote the following here on PLT in a post I entitled:

Both La Niñas (cooling trends) and El Niños (warming ones), have been scientifically shown to be behaving strangely in recent years, with the onset of global warming.

In the early ‘90s, several El Niños were recorded, but with no La Niñas in between! The IPCC describes this occurrence as"highly unusual and very unlikely to be accounted for solely by natural variability.”

Then, in the spring of 1997 until the summer of '98, perhaps the most devastating and prolonged El Niños of all time slammed into Ecuador, in South America. It caused a staggering $2.6 billion in damage to that country's infrastructure, farms, fisheries, homes and businesses.

Events like this have prompted the IPCC itself to observe"Whether global warming is affecting El Niños is now a key question."

Biologist Tyrone Hayes Battles One of the Biggest Agribusinesses in the World (Podcast)

CBC Radio - The Current.

Hayes has spent his career studying the effects of one particular herbicide - Atrazine - on frogs. When he presented the maker Syngenta with results that he said showed sexual abnormalities in frogs, Dr. Hayes says the company tried to launch a campaign to discredit his work. Listen here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Government of Manitoba, Canada to Introduce Legislation That Would Protect Children From Synthetic Chemical Lawn Pesticides

Gov't of Manitoba
First-of-its-kind Legislation in Canada would offer Synthetic Chemical Pesticide-free Zones 
On School, Daycare, Hospital Grounds:  Minister Mackintosh

To mark Earth Day, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh outlined proposals today that would protect children and reduce their exposure to potentially harmful synthetic chemical pesticides.

Earth Week: Bark Beetles Change Rocky Mountain Stream Flows, Affect Water Quality


If you guessed that trees are all that's being affected by the recent infestation of the pine bark beetle, guess again. Full story here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Researchers Rethink 'Natural' Habitat for Wildlife


Bull moose with budding antlers. PLT photo.
Protecting wildlife while feeding a world population predicted to reach nine billion by 2050 will require a holistic approach to conservation that considers human-altered landscapes such as farmland, according to researchers. A new study finds that a long-accepted theory used to estimate extinction rates, predict ecological risk and make conservation policy recommendations is overly pessimistic. The researchers point to an alternative framework that promises a more effective way of accounting for human-altered landscapes and assessing ecological risks. Full story here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

As Canada Dawdles, Denmark Shows the World How to Stop Mass-Medicating Animals

The Saskatoon Star Phoenix
Unlike Canada, Danish farmers must record every single dose of antibiotic they use. Details here.

‘Extreme Levels’ of Monsanto’s Roundup Herbicide Found in Soy Plants

A new study led by scientists from the Arctic University of Norway has detected “extreme levels” of Roundup, the agricultural herbicide manufactured by Monsanto, in genetically engineered (GE) soy. Full story here.

Another Showdown with PM Harper. Can you Chip In $5 Today?

Forest Ethics

ForestEthics Advocacy and a group of concerned citizens are seeking legal counsel to knock the Kinder Morgan pipeline project in B.C. right off its tracks. Full story here.

Unnatural Gas

Winnipeg Free Press

Towering flames atop oil wells break the inky darkness in the badlands on North Dakota's Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The flares of natural gas set grass fires on the prairie where Theodora Bird Bear's ancestors hunted buffalo and create a driving hazard on rural roads. Full story here.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Free Trade: Pathway to Prosperity - or Back Road to Corporatism?

by Larry Powell

As globalization reaches a frenzied pace, free trade agreements (FTAs) between nations are coming thick and fast, too. 

Now, a knowledgable source with impressive credentials is sounding the latest cautionary note about "CETA," the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement which Prime Minister Harper and the European Union signed, in principle last year. 
Howard Mann PhD (1988): London School of Economics.
Master of Laws LL.M. (1984): London School of Economics.
Bachelor of Civil Law (1982): McGill University. 
Senior International Law Advisor to the IISD.
Photo credit – Sue Danahy, Ottawa

A Canadian expert in international law, Howard Mann, (above) is lending an important new voice to a now-familiar chorus of alarm about "CETA," in particular.  

For decades, large corporations have been using provisions within existing free trade agreements to sue sovereign nations who pass certain laws protecting the environment and health of their citizens. The corporations view such laws as assaults on their own "rights" to do business and make a profit in those countries.
  • For example, as long ago as the 1990s, an American company, Ethyl Corp. sued Canada under a clause in "NAFTA," the North American Free Trade Agreement. Canada had banned its fuel additive, MMT due to concerns that it was a poisonous neurotoxin. The ban stuck, but Canada had to pay the company (the same one which brought leaded gasoline to Canada back in the 20s), $17 million in compensation.  
  • Fast forward to today, and the stakes are much higher.
  • The US-based pharmaceutical giant, Eli Lilly and Company is currently suing Canada, also under NAFTA, for $500 million. The move comes after Canadian courts struck down the company’s patents on two of its drugs. Those rulings removed Lilly's monopoly and allowed another company to replicate the medications, in a cheaper, generic form. (Ironically, the drugs in question, both antipsychotics, are suspected of causing a number of mental patients, both young and old, to take their own lives. However, those adverse reactions played little or no part in the court decisions.) 
When contacted by PinP, Claude Rochon, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, would say only, “Our Government's actions will continue to reflect our commitment to ensure Canadians continue to have access to the affordable drugs they need, while promoting innovation and job creation.”
  • Another, similar case has been launched by LonePine Resources, a Texas-based oil company. LonePine is suing Canada for $250 million because Quebec refused to allow it to "frack" beneath the St. Lawrence River, at least until better regulations could be put into place. "Fracking," or hydraulic fracturing, involves the controversial practise of pumping chemicals under pressure into underground shale formations, to force out the oil or gas. In documents filed under NAFTA, LonePine calls Quebec's actions, "an arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas..." 
  • Some three years ago, the global tobacco company, Philip Morris, sued the Australian government for passing a law requiring it to market its product in plain packages. The company claims the move breaches Australia’s bilateral investment treaty (FTA) with Hong Kong. Phillip Morris says it will seek billions of dollars in damages. 
In a twist to what critics might already call a sordid tale, a Canadian company, Infinito Gold, based in Calgary, is suing the Central-American nation of Costa Rica under terms of an FTA between the two countries. 
A Costa Rican cloud forest. A PinP photo.
It wants $100 million dollars from the small nation for saying "no" to a company plan to build a "cyanide-leach" gold mine in one of its pristine rain forests. Costa Rica depends for much of its revenue, on tourists coming to enjoy the nation's natural beauty. 
Some observers say the company will win its case.

And, in a recent column, British journalist George Monbiot writes, "In El Salvador, an Australian company is now suing the government before a closed tribunal of corporate lawyers for $300 million (nearly half the country's annual budget) in potential profits foregone. Why? Because El Salvador has refused permission for a gold mine that would poison people's drinking water."

Except for Ethyl Corp., none of these cases has been resolved yet.

When PinP asked the government official, Claude Rochon, to respond to the trade actions against Canada, he responded, "As always, the Government of Canada will vigorously defend interests of Canadian in this dispute settlement process. The Government of Canada is committed to transparency in NAFTA Chapter 11 disputes and posts public versions of documents on the Department's website."
So what does the future hold in a world where free trade agreements 
are becoming "the new normal?"

Howard Mann testified before the Commons Committee on International Trade that, “In my opinion, the Investment Chapter (of CETA), if it continues on what appears to be its present course, will provide foreign investors into Canada with the most investor-friendly set of corporate rights ever drafted by the Canadian government into a treaty." After studying secret drafts which have leaked out, he declared, "This is a Big Deal. A Very Big Deal!" 

In an interview with PinP later, Mann suggests, we haven't seen anything yet, in terms of the number of lawsuits which Corporations will be launching against Canada once CETA becomes law. 

PinP: “Is there a risk that CETA, once ratified, will lead to more lawsuits by investors against Canada?" 

Mann:  “No, there is a certainty! There have been over 600 such arbitrations commenced globally in the past 20 years, about half by EU-based companies. There is no reason to think they will not be equally aggressive using the mechanism against Canada. The creativity of industry in using the investor-state arbitration process to fend off any and every kind of government measure continues to amaze me, even after 18 years working in this field. From challenging anti-smoking measures, to protecting against side-effects of medications, fracking under the St. Lawrence River, protecting water basins in fragile environments, there is no area of decision-making that is outside the scope of these agreements.”

Mann further warns that CETA's provisions for increased investor rights, “Will weaken the ability of Canada’s elected lawmakers, both federal and provincial, to legislate in major areas of public policy, including environment and health.”

Partisan Politics Enters the Fray

Mann is surprisingly candid over the lack of “critical review” by the opposition Liberals over CETA.

“That the Liberal party supports free trade and increased investments is fine. That they are blind to the fact that the language used in such agreements can have multiple effects, including on Canadian regulatory capacity to replace the environmental laws the present government has dismantled, as they have promised they will, is incomprehensible. Words matter, but it seems they prefer to support the notion of free trade without any attention to the actual language in the actual text. As a life-long Liberal, I find it stupefying.”

A Study in Contrasts

Just how the governments of Canada and the U.K. are approaching such trade treaties has become a study in contrast.

In the United Kingdom, MPs from all parties have called for a halt to talks on a very similar treaty with the U.S. Why? According to the newspaper, The Independent, they fear it may put “British sovereignty ‘at risk’ by surrendering judicial independence to multinational corporations.”

In Canada, far from showing hesitation, there’s been nothing but unbridled enthusiasm on the part of the federal government. Prime Minister Harper calls the CETA, “The biggest deal Canada has ever made.” In a letter to the editor, one of his western MPs, Robert Sopuck, writes, it will bring many jobs to his riding while raising the incomes of families there.

A Government website boasts that Canada “currently has 25 foreign investment promotion and protection agreements (FIPAs) in force around the world, with hope of more to come. It further boasts that negotiations over the CETA have been “the most transparent and inclusive in Canada’s history.”

But the reality, according to Mann, is quite different.


A redacted document on early CETA talks (l.), which leaked onto the internet.

“The EU-US investment negotiations have been put on hold in order to have a full-scale three month public consultation. 

No such opportunity has ever been had in Canada on the CETA. We have to depend on leaks because our government will not issue an official draft.”

As significant as his warnings are, they're not the first. Groups such as the Council of Canadians and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives have been saying similar things for years.

But, given Mann’s impressive credentials and experience, and, as all the cumulative evidence piles up, will Ottawa finally pay attention, or ignore it as its peril? 

Grain, Trains and Autocrats: Farmers Pay the Price for Dismantling Wheat Board

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

There is a direct correlation between the loss of the farmer-elected Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) and the current rail transportation boondoggle. Details here.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Strong Support Shown for Bees! More Needed!

Wow! In just a week, enough of us chipped in to fund the world's first people-powered study on what's killing our bees. Let's build on this and create a massive global offensive to take on the chemical companies -- pledge below:
Dear friends, 

Billions of bees are dying, and it's causing an environmental holocaust that threatens all of us. Most scientists agree pesticides are to blame, but pesticide companies are funding junk science that gives politicians an excuse to delay taking action. If enough of us pledge, we could launch a people-powered, totally independent study that finally challenges big pharma.

Click to pledge what you can: 

$3    $5    $10    $20    $40Pledge another amount. 
Right now, billions of bees are dying. Already, there are nowhere near enough honeybees in Europe to pollinate the crops, and in California -- the biggest food producer in the US -- beekeepers are losing 40% of their bees each year. 

We're in the middle of an environmental holocaust that threatens all of us, because without pollination by bees, most plants and ⅓ of our food supply are gone. 

Scientists are sounding the alarm about pesticides that are toxic to bees, and say we’re using way, way more pesticides on our crops than we need. But as with oil companies and climate change, big drug companies that sell pesticides are fighting back with corporate-funded junk science that questions the evidence, and gives politicians an excuse to delay.

Manitoba’s First Glyphosate-Resistant Weed Confirmed

Manitoba Co-Operator

The good news is, the weed was found at only two sites out of 283 surveyed last fall. Details here.

Artist; Paul Hoppe

Is Fear a Useful Tool in Communicating Climate Change Issues?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Canadians Turn Up The Heat Against The Northern Gateway Tar Sands Pipeline

Climate Progress

Residents of Kitimat, B.C. — the last stop of the proposed pipeline’s route —voted no to the pipeline’s construction…Full story here.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Rex Does it Again!

In the wake of the latest, earth-shattering reports from the IPCC about the grave implications of climate change and the need for drastic and immediate, remedial action to prevent further disaster, (see 2 recent blogposts, below) Rex Murphy chooses the passing of Canada's previous Finance Minister as the topic for today's "Cross-Country Checkup" on CBC Radio. As if that topic, as sad, tragic and newsworthy as it was, had not been exhaustively covered already. 

As many of us will know by now, Rex gets paid to speak to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), to tell them what they want to hear.
If Rex's climate-denying bias is the reason behind this blatant oversight, perhaps it is time for him to step down and make way for someone more objective and capable of better news judgement. 

Climate Panel Stunner: Avoiding Climate Catastrophe Is Super Cheap — But Only If We Act Now

Climate Progress
Sunset over Manitoba. PLT photo.

The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its third of four planned reports. This one is on “mitigation” — “human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.” Details here.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Prayer for Earth Day

Logging our dwindling forests. PLT photo.
Forgive us, oh Lord, for the profound harm we mortals are inflicting on Thy sacred creation, Mother Earth. Our reckless burning of fossil fuels is contributing to catastrophic climate change which, as we speak, is attacking many parts of Thy planet, upon which Thou hast so graciously permitted us to dwell. 

Bestow upon us all, oh Lord, the eco-wisdom we will need to radically change our behaviour, so that we no longer threaten just our own kind, but the lowly wild creatures with which we also share the humble home you have so graciously provided for us all. Help us to avert and lessen the dangers we have so thoughtlessly created,  which now threaten the very safety, security and survival of future human generations - our children and our grandchildren. 

Forgive us, oh Lord, for we know not what we do. 

In Jesus name. Amen.
Get involved with Earth Day, (April 22nd) here!

Greener Consumers Part of the Big Plan For Manitoba Hydro

Winnipeg Free Press

Utility set to ratchet up domestic conservation. Details here.

PLT photo

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Robert F. Kennedy Jr: Canada Used to Be Our Moral Paradigm


“I wished [Americans] were more like Canadians…until you elected Stephen Harper,” quipped Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at a recent Vancouver event. Full story here.
Council of Canadians.

The Council of Canadians is applauding the transfer of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) to the International Institute of Sustainable Development but continues to decry the Harper government’s abdication of its responsibility for fresh water protection. Details here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Health Professionals Worldwide Demand Urgent Climate Action Following IPCC Report

Health and medical organizations from around the world are calling on governments to respond to the major health risks described in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recent Second Working Group reporting, ‘Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation,’ which was released on Monday. Details here.

Sharp rise in FAO Food Price Index

Food & Agriculture Organization

Weather and Black Sea tensions push prices to ten-month highs. Details here.

Blight, spawned by torrential rain, destroyed 
this & many other "backyard" 
tomato crops in western Canada 
a few years ago. PLT photo.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tar Sands Emissions Linked to Serious Health Problems in Alberta

RSN reader supported news

In a landmark report to Alberta’s energy regulator, a panel of experts has concluded that odors from a controversial tar sands processing plant are linked to human health impacts. Full story here.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Experimental Lakes Area Research Station Officially Saved

CBC News
Deal launches 'fresh new chapter' in life of research station near Kenora in northwestern Ontario. Details here.
Evidence for Democracy
 Link to Evidence for Democracy

Dear Larry,
I’m delighted to share some good news with you!
It was announced yesterday that a final agreement 
was made to transfer operation of the Experimental 
Lakes Area (ELA) to the International Institute for 
Sustainable Development (IISD). We applaud the 
IISD and the Governments of Ontario and Manitoba 
for creating a new home for the ELA.

Massive B.C. coal mines are about to get a new owner. Why some are worried about Glencore’s record

THE NARWHAL Coal mine at Tumbler Ridge, B.C.  Jeffrey Wynne ,      If the sale goes through, the company will inherit a contamination proble...