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Massive crowd on Burnaby Mountain, as Kinder Morgan injunction takes effect

November 18th, 2014

Vancouver Observer
Mychaylo Prystupa Nov 17th, 2014

What started as a trickle of oil-pipeline protesters two months ago has spilled into a massive anti-Kinder-Morgan movement on Burnaby Mountain, if Monday night’s crowd is any indication.

More than 800 people showed up at 4pm – the exact time a B.C.-Supreme-Court-ordered-Kinder-Morgan injunction took effect.

It is now illegal for protesters to interfere with the company’s controversial pipeline survey work for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. The RCMP were everywhere, but neither they nor the court order seemed to stop the crowds from expressing their anger at the project. Youth, seniors, native, non-native all showed up in force.

Read whole article

Week Twelve (November 25): Just Transition or Ecosocialism? (Essay#3 due)

November 18th, 2014

According the Canadian Labour Congress: “Just Transition will ensure that the costs of environmental change will be shared fairly,” The phrase has become a key slogan for sustainability and social justice among labour unions internationally. Rosemberg and Verheecke highlight some of the challenges that confront the achievement of social justice in a world of limited resources. They question the conventional assumptions — relied upon by ecological modernization or the “green economy” — that the current economic system can be “tweaked” through incentives for technological innovations that internalize the environmental externalities.

Reading: Rosemberg and Verheecke, “Green growth and the need for a paradigm shift: challenges for achieving social justice in a resource-limited world,” pp. 235–241. Magdoff and Foster, “What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism.” pp. 24-28.


Week Eleven (November 18): Beyond the Tragedy of the Commons

November 4th, 2014

“Garrett Hardin’s (1968) portrayal of the users of a common-pool resource—a pasture open to all—being trapped in an inexorable tragedy of overuse and destruction has been widely accepted since it was consistent with the prediction of no cooperation in a prisoner’s dilemma or other social dilemma games. It captured the attention of scholars and policymakers across the world. Many presumed that all common-pool resources were owned by no one… Finding multiple cases where resource users were successful in organizing themselves challenged the presumption that it was impossible for resource users to solve their own problems of overuse.”– Ostrom

Video: Ostrom Nobel Prize Lecture.

Reading: Ostrom, “Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems,” pp. 641-45 and 663-65. Walker, “Labour Power as a Common Pool Resource.”


Mark Jaccard Reviews Naomi Klein’s book, “This Changes Everything”

October 28th, 2014

SFU Professor Mark Jaccard’s  review of Naomi Klein’s book is now up on the website of the Literary Review of Canada, and will appear in the November 2014 print edition. At his blog (excerpt below) Mark elaborates on his criticisms.

October 14, 2014

What is Klein’s thesis? What is the contribution of her book? I think she would say that her book demonstrates that we must change capitalism if we are to succeed against the climate threat: “system change, not climate change.”
But to convince us of her thesis she needs to show: (A) why efforts that do not involve profoundly changing capitalism have not worked and will not work; and (B) why her proposals will work and why they “change everything about our economic system.”This second point is problematic because she never clearly articulates what she means by “changing everything” about our economic system. But her random comments suggest that her desired changes include: (1) replacing all (or key?) large energy corporations with collectives or small businesses that develop and operate small, decentralized, renewables-based energy systems, thereby eliminating global trade in energy, and (2) meeting most of our non-energy needs with local production, thereby dramatically reducing global trade (and the energy and infrastructure this requires), (3) empowering local communities (collectives, indigenous peoples, perhaps individuals) with control over local economic activity and environmental and health regulation in order to prevent harm to their environment and themselves, and (4) ending economic growth, although perhaps she assumes that (1), (2) and (3) will both reduce economic growth and change economic activity to be much more benign to ecosystems and people.

As is clear from reading my piece in the Literary Review of Canada, I feel that her thesis fails because she is not able to demonstrate (A) or (B) above, except by ignoring or distorting the evidence about key technologies, policies and jurisdictions. In the rest of these notes, I provide additional evidence to support the arguments in my review.

Week Ten (November 4): The Tragedy of the Commons

October 28th, 2014

“Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land. Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.” – Hardin

Readings: Garrett Harden “Tragedy of the Commons.” Dolenec, “The Commons as a Radical Democratic Project.”


Europe emission targets ‘will fail to protect climate’

October 21st, 2014
October 20, 2014

Europe’s leaders are about to consign the Earth to the risk of dangerous climate change, a UN expert says.

Prof Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the EU’s plan to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2030 is too weak.

He says it will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

The Commission rejected the claim, saying the 40% target puts Europe on track for long-term climate goals.

The 40% target – proposed by the European Commission – will be finalised at an EU summit this week.

A spokesman for the Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard said: “Our 40% target is in line with science as it puts us right on track to meet our 2050 goal of cutting emissions by 80%-95%.

“This is what developed countries will need to reduce by 2050 according to the IPCC to keep global warming below 2C.”

But Prof Skea, vice-chair of the economics working group of the IPCC, told BBC News the EU’s 40% target for 2030 would not lead to the desired cut by the middle of the century.

He said the easy climate protection measures – like energy saving – had been snapped up, leaving to future leaders the job of introducing new clean technologies in every walk of life.

“I don’t think many people have grasped just how huge this task is,” he said. “It is absolutely extraordinary and unprecedented. My guess is that 40% for 2030 is too little too late if we are really serious about our long-term targets.”

Step change

He believes some politicians have not grasped the relative mathematics of transforming the energy economy step-by-step from 1990 baseline through to 2050.

He says the Commission’s current stance means that future leaders will need to make a three-fold cut in just 20 years – which Prof Skea believes is scarcely credible.

Prof Skea believes governments are setting targets by what appears to be politically achievable rather than what is necessary to transform the way we make and use energy as the century unfolds.

Much of the political difficulty lies in fears that Europe’s competitors will not play their part in reducing emissions, leaving EU firms and consumers saddled with high energy prices.

Poland says the 40% target will damage its economy. Other nations like the UK say the target should be made more ambitious if the US and China agree strong action to protect the climate.

Other negotiations around the EU’s climate and energy package centre on whether Europe should agree a mandatory energy efficiency target.

Environmentalists and several industry groups argue this is the best way of cutting emissions whilst also reducing dependency on Russian gas.

The UK’s Energy Secretary Ed Davey maintains that nations should be able to decide on their own strategies for cutting emissions without being bound by too many rules.

Prof Skea, who is based at Imperial College London, agrees with him. The best way of cutting emissions, he says, is by Europe ratcheting up efficiency standards across all products that use energy.

Some politicians recently complained that new EU efficiency standards were denying people the opportunity to buy the best vacuum cleaners.

But Prof Skea maintains that industry standards take the least efficient machines off the market, which benefits consumers without excessive political pain.

Week Nine (October 28): Production, Consumption and Externalities (Essay #2 due)

October 21st, 2014

Instead of viewing the environment as separate from and outside the economy, ecological economists consider the economy as a subsystem of the environment, in which the consumption of energy and other material resources and the disposal of residuals is an integral and inevitable part of all industrial process. This week’s readings feature critiques of the neoclassical mainstream by two classics of ecological economics.

Readings: Ayres and Kneese, “Production, Consumption, and Externalities,” pp. 282–288 and 295–296. Costanza, “Embodied Energy and Economic Valuation.



October 21st, 2014

by Peter Victor

Mark Jaccard draws on his detailed knowledge of climate change policies and mainstream economics to reject Naomi Klein’s argument that climate change represents a fundamental challenge to capitalism. And he makes some good points. Nonetheless, here are four reasons for thinking that Klein is essentially correct:

Capitalism’s poor track record. Capitalism hasn’t solved the climate problem. Greenhouse gas emissions from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are higher than in 1994 when they signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Jaccard cites California as “the leading jurisdiction in … arguably the world” because of its programs for reducing emissions. Yet he fails to mention that changing patterns of trade have disguised the fact that emissions have been shifted abroad from developed economies rather than reduced, as careful accounting demonstrates. Furthermore, the policy “solutions” of emission taxes and tradeable permits that Jaccard refers to have been known for decades, but have not been comprehensively implemented. Indeed, they have been actively resisted. The United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, which included economic policies favoured by Jaccard, and Canada, which did ratify it, rescinded its ratification. Why is this? Klein provides an answer. Jaccard does not.

Capitalism is slow to transition to renewables. The fossil fuel industry is not leading the transition to renewables. Instead, it seeks access to more remote and environmentally damaging sources of fossil fuels and the relaxation of environmental protections. Energy prices do not adequately reflect environmental and social costs in their production and use, which favour fossil fuels, and no one can make monopoly profits by owning the sun and wind.

Capitalism encourages competition and discourages cooperation.Competition and cooperation are both important in resilient, just societies. Climate policy is a failure of cooperation. Under capitalism, the public interest is supposed to be served through the self-interested behaviour of producers and consumers. Climate change is just one among numerous examples of where this doesn’t happen and, as Klein reports, the list is growing.

Capitalism thrives on economic growth. The faster an economy grows, the faster it must reduce greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of economic output, just to stop total emissions increasing—and faster still to achieve an absolute reduction. How long could such a process continue, were it even to start? One generation? A couple? Questioning the longevity of economic growth entails questioning the structure of capitalism, which Klein understands and so should we.

Week Eight (October 21): “Green Growth” Ecological Modernization

October 14th, 2014

“…the main policy drivers of green growth will need to be environmental policies, which align economic incentives with environmental responsibility, and innovation policies, which encourage the development of the new technologies that will be required to decouple economic growth from depletion of environmental stocks.” – ILO and OECD

Reading: ILO and the OECD, “Sustainable development, green growth and quality employment.” pp. 2-8.


5 good reasons for working 4 days a week

October 9th, 2014

[Originally posted at the International Labour Organization blog "Work in Progress" but has since been deleted.]

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

—Jon Messenger, ILO Team Leader, Working Conditions Group

I’ve been studying working hours since I joined the ILO in 2000 and I’ve never seen anything like it: article after article touting the benefits of a reduced work-week, with business leaders from Google co-founder Larry Page to Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, all saying the same thing.

If you ask me, the idea of cutting back the workweek has finally reached critical mass. But it’s hardly a new idea—there are a lot of good reasons for moving towards a shorter, four-day workweek. Here are just a few of them.

1. Working too much is bad for your health

The costs of long working hours in terms of occupational health and safety are staggering. Cardiovascular diseases, gastrointestinal and reproductive problems, musculoskeletal disorders, chronic infections, mental health problems, and even higher rates of “all-cause mortality”—in other words, death! If you don’t believe me, ask workers in Japan and Korea, where words like karoshi and kwarosa—which literally mean “death from overwork”—are part of everyday vocabulary. Moving to a four-day workweek would help to reduce these serious health issues and their associated costs.

—The regulation of working time is one of the oldest concerns of labour legislation. Already in the early 19th century it was recognized that working excessive hours posed a danger to workers’ health and to their families. Find out more

2. A shorter workweek would create more and better jobs

While some people are working too much, others aren’t able to work enough—namely those part-time workers who would prefer full-time jobs. During the global economic crisis, policies such as Kurzarbeit in Germany encouraged companies to respond to reduced demand for their products and services by reducing working hours instead of cutting jobs. For example, instead of laying-off 20 per cent of the workforce, employers could reduce working hours for all workers by 20 per cent—from five days a week to four. Similar measures can be used in good times as well. For example, when the legal workweek in Korea was cut from 44 to 40 hours per week, there were increases in both employment and productivity.

3. We’re more productive when we work less

In many parts of the world, it’s taken as an article of faith that long working hours equal high productivity. The problem is that it simply isn’t true. On the contrary, many of those countries where workers work the longest have relatively low labour productivity. This is particularly true in work environments that encourage presenteeism, or “face time”, which is all about showing your boss how hard you are working—instead of actually doing the work. But “face time” is waste time: it doesn’t increase your productivity or improve your results. Shorter working hours, by contrast, have been shown to boost workers’ motivation, lower absenteeism, reduce the risk of mistakes and accidents, and discourage employee turnover. So cutting the workweek isn’t just good for workers, it’s good for businesses, too.

“A new study has shown that a shorter workweek was directly related to an increase in overall life satisfaction, or ‘happiness’.”

4. Working less would be good for the environment

With all the talk about “greening” our economies these days, people seldom talk about cutting work hours. Yet, it’s pretty clear that the more we work, the bigger our “carbon footprint” will be. Cutting back on the number of days that we work—and thus the number of times that we have to commute from our homes to our workplaces—is bound to save energy, reduce carbon emissions and ultimately make for a “greener” economy.

5. Working fewer days would make us happier

A number of studies have identified regular long working hours as an important predictor of work-life conflict. This may sound obvious, especially to anyone with kids or elderly parents to care for, but the facts show that long work weeks can lead to more stress and anxiety at home. In fact, a new study has shown that a shorter workweek was directly related to an increase in overall life satisfaction, or “happiness”.

Summing it all up, there are a lot of good reasons for reducing working hours and moving to a shorter workweek. If the workweek is already five days—as it is in most advanced economies—then moving to a four-day workweek doesn’t just make good sense, it is the next step in the long road to a happier, healthier, and more sustainable society.