Why can’t we use the ‘F’ words?

In the more than 4,000 words of the Sharm el-Sheikh document, the words “fossil fuels” appear just once

Dr. Trevor Hancock

22 November 2022

699 words

Although I intended to continue my examination of ‘Earth For All’, the astounding hypocrisy of the world’s political leaders, including our Prime Minister, with respect to climate change cannot go unchallenged. So I will return to the ‘Earth for All’ report later.

Last week, COP27 ended with agreement by all the countries in the world on the Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan. The good news is that it includes, finally, an agreement to establish a ‘loss and damage’ fund through which the high-income countries will provide funding and technical support to developing countries damaged by climate change.

The bad news is that yet again the agreement does not include any mention of actually reducing fossil fuel production or use. In fact, yet again, a COP Agreement barely mentions the ‘F’ words – fossil fuels. Writing in The Guardian on November 9th, George Monbiot stated “I’ve worked through every final agreement produced by the summits since they began. Fossil fuels are named in only six of them. Just one hints at using less overall”, adding “not one of them suggests extracting less.”

In the more than 4,000 words of the Sharm el-Sheikh document, the words ‘fossil fuels’ appear just once, and only in the context of a phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies – something Canada committed to do in 2009, but has yet to even define, never mind remove, the International Institute for Sustainable Development reported in June.

There is no reference at all to oil or natural gas and just one reference to coal, in the context of the “phasedown of unabated coalpower”, meaning coal power that does not have carbon capture and storage technology. As Chris Hatch observed, writing in the National Observer last week, “Governments cannot name the cause of the problem”.

I guess we can see why there was such a large presence of fossil fuel industries at the conference, including at the Canadian pavilion. They were there to ensure that yet again the fossil fuel industry would be exempt from scrutiny, never mind action to constrain the industry. But surely the fossil fuel industry, with the obscene level of windfall profits they have made this year on the back of the Russian war on Ukraine, should be required to contribute to the loss and damage fund?

Canada does not come out of COP smelling of roses. Justin Trudeau could not even summon the interest to attend. Perhaps he just wanted to avoid embarassment, given that Canada was ranked 55th out of 60 countries by the independent German-based Climate Change Performance Index, scoring ‘very low’ on controlling greenhouse gas emissions and use of renewables and ranked last on energy use per capita.

Canada’s hypocrisy has been evident for some time, as shown by this headline from the Washington Post, June 18, 2019: “On Monday, Canada declared a ‘climate emergency.’ On Tuesday, it approved a pipeline expansion” – the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, to be precise. The article noted that “Trudeau . . . pledged that every dollar earned from the pipeline will be used to fund projects to power Canada’s transition to clean energy.”

So to get to clean energy, we have to dig up and export dirty oil from the Alberta tar sands, conveniently washing our hands of responsibility because some other country uses it, adding to their carbon emissions, but not ours. Hardly ethical, is it? In fact it sounds to me like an addict: I’m going to stop, really I am – just one more drink/cigarette/toke, then I’ll stop.

Then there is the issue of Canada actually expanding production, in the face of the blunt statement by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres in April that “investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.” Yet Canada ranks fifth in the world in approving new oil and gas expansion in 2022, according to ‘Investing in Disaster’, a new report from Oil Change International.  But it is worse than that, because “The tally only includes projects where companies have made Final Investment Decisions — so projects like Bay du Nord don’t show up . . . even though the government has given its approval”, reports Chris Hatch.

No wonder Mr. Trudeau did not want to be at COP27!

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy


Ecological sanity and social justice: We can’t have one without the other

Dr. Trevor Hancock

15 November 2022

700 words

More than 40 years ago, in my major paper for my Masters degree, I sought to identify the fundamental principles underlying public health. I concluded there are two: Ecological sanity and social justice. The pursuit of these principles has defined much of my work to create a healthier society ever since.

So I was pleased to find that ‘Earth For All’ – the recent report to the Club of Rome – is largely focused on those two issues. Or to be more precise, it is focused on finding solutions to the growing ecological insanity and social injustice that plagues humanity today.

A separately published background paper, available on the Earth4All website, provides a more in-depth exploration of the relationship between inequality and sustainabilty. The authors are Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, two British social epidemiologists who wrote ‘The Spirit Level’, an important 2010 book on the social and health consequences of inequality. (Pickett is a member of the Transformational Economics Commission, whose members guided the final report and the Earth For All strategy.)

Their paper “outlines six ways in which large income and wealth differences – both within and between countries – reduce the chances that our societies will respond adequately to the environmental crisis.” The first of these is rooted in the simple fact that on a finite planet there are limits to growth, as the Club of Rome’s 1972 report by that name made clear.

If the pie cannot keep growing, then the only way that those who do not have enough of the Earth’s bio-capacity and resources can meet their basic human and social development needs is for those who take an excessive amount to take less. This issue is closely related to Wilkinson and Pickett’s second and third points: People will only accept the burden of changes that are needed to achieve a sustainable world if they feel the burden is fairly shared, which means those who benefit most right now must make the largest changes.

The inequality of impact is seen at both the personal and the global levels. A November 2nd article in the Guardian reported an analysis by Autonomy, an independent economic consultancy in the UK, that looked at income and greenhouse gas data from 1998 to 2018. They found that the ‘polluting elite’ – the top 1 percent of earners in the UK –  “are responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions in a single year as the bottom 10 percent over more than two decades”.

This polluting elite is found not just in high-income countries, but in all countries. As Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, notes, “it’s the rich who are disproportionately responsible for the climate crisis”, adding “the most effective way for the government to tackle climate change would be to properly tax the rich, through a well-targeted carbon tax scheme.”

The same point has been made at COP27 over the past two weeks: Wealthy countries have contributed most to the greenhouse gas emissions that have caused global warming, but it is low-income countries that disproportionately bear the environmental, social, health and economic costs. That is why the issue of compensation for the resulting loss and damage has been such a hot topic at the conference.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s next two points are that consumerism – in itself a threat to sustainability because always making and selling more ‘stuff’ depletes the Earth – “can be reduced by lowering the inequality that intensifies status competition and increases the desire for personal wealth”, and that the evidence is clear that beyond a certain point (which Canada is well past), greater equality is a much more important determinant of health than more wealth.

Their final point is that “greater equality leads people to be more cooperative and mutually supportive”, making it easier to get people to work together to address the challenges we face. Or conversely, as the ‘Earth For All’ report puts it, over-consumption comes “at the expense of social cohesion and human and planetary health.”

In short, ecological sanity and social justice are inextricably linked; we can’t have one without the other. Next week I will look at some of the policies the ‘Earth For All’ report proposes to rectify these inequalities.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Canada must stop digging a deeper climate-crisis hole

Canada’s federal and provincial governments need to immediately stop all supports for fossil-fuel exploration and extraction, and find ways to pressure Canadian banks to do the same

Dr. Trevor Hancock

8 November 2022

700 words

When you are in a hole, as the old adage goes, stop digging. Well, as the COP 27 UN climate conference in Egypt makes clear, we are in a hole on climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned last month the world is in “a life-or-death struggle” for survival as “climate chaos gallops ahead”, while the World Health Organization calls climate change “the single biggest health threat facing humanity”.

We quite literally need to stop digging up – and drilling for – fossil fuels. In a May 2021 report, the International Energy Agency stated “the global journey to net zero by 2050 . . . includes, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects.” And Mr. Guterres said in April 2022 “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

Yet the world continues to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure and to expand production of fossil fuels. A 2021 report from a group led by the Rainforest Action Network stated “most of the oil majors are still on the path to significantly increase their oil and gas production between now and 2030.”

The Canada Energy Regulator reported in July that Canada is the fourth largest oil producer in the world and that since 2010, crude oil production has increased by 57 percent and exports by 87 percent. In addition, Canada was the sixth largest natural gas producer in the world.

Of particular concern are the ‘carbon bombs’; fossil fuel extraction projects that will release at least 1 billion tons of CO2 over their lifetimes (see my May 22nd and 29th columns). There are 425 such projects around the world, of which 40 percent are yet to start extraction. They will emit almost triple the amount of CO2 emissions allowable after 2020 if we are to stay under a 1.5°C rise in global temperature. Canada, with 12 carbon bombs – all in BC or Alberta – is the seventh largest carbon bomber in the world and could add 39 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Small wonder that an article in The Guardian in June of this year described Mr. Guterres, speaking at a White House-organised Major Economies Forum, as “furious” that “governments that are failing to rein in fossil fuels, and in many cases seeking increased production of gas, oil and even coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel”. Fossil fuel producers and financiers, he added, “have humanity by the throat.”

Unforgivably, the government of Canada is supporting increased production and export of fossil fuels, while Canadian banks and the Canadian government are among the global leaders in financing fossil fuel expansion.  The Rainforest Action Network report noted “the world’s 60 largest commercial and investment banks . . . poured a total of $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels from 2016–2020.” The report showed Canada’s big five banks are among the top 25 global banks supporting fossil fuels, with RBC ranked 5th in the world, TD 9th and Scotia Bank 11th.

A July 2021 report from the Dutch consultancy Profundo, commissioned by Greenpeace, notes: “Since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, the six Canadian banks in this study have provided over $694 billion to fossil fuel companies in the form of loans ($477 billion) and underwriting services ($216 billion)”, with 88% of it going to oil and gas companies.

Meanwhile, Canadian governments are also funding fossil fuel expansion. In 2021, Environmental Defence reports, federal government support alone amounted to at least $8.6 billion, of which $5.1 billion was provided through Export Development Canada. A 2022 report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development pegged provincial subsidies at a further $2.5 billion in 2020/21.

This at a time when the fossil fuel industry is wallowing in cash from the windfall profits stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine. Moreover, the report notes, “between 2018 and 2020, Canada provided 14 times more fossil fuel finance than support for renewables.”

Canada’s federal and provincial governments need to wake up and smell the burning, immediately stop all supports for fossil fuel exploration and extraction, and find ways to pressure Canadian banks to do the same. The health and wellbeing of this and future generations depends upon whether our governments stop digging.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

As UN climate summit begins, not much good news, but room for hope

The consequences of a mere 1.1°C of warming are already becoming very apparent; the impacts of a rise above 1.5 or even 2°C will be severe

Dr. Trevor Hancock

1 November 2022

701 words

One of the five great turnarounds proposed in the recent ‘Earth For All’ report to the Club of Rome is the energy turnaround. So with COP27 – the annual UN conference on climate change – opening in Egypt, this is a good time to look at this issue.

Regrettably, there is not much in the way of good news, although there is still  room for some hope. In a September joint report with other major UN agencies and the UK Met Office, the World Meteorological Organization announced that while CO2 emissions went down a bit during Covid, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise”, with the three main greenhouse gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – all reaching new record highs in 2021.

The report also noted preliminary data for January to May 2022 show a 1.2 percent increase in CO2 emissions over pre-pandemic (2019) levels. This is particularly troubling given that the world is supposed to be working to reduce emissions.  Unsurprisingly, current commitments by the nations of the world are not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. For example, the Lancet Countdown (see below) reported “the carbon intensity of the global energy system has decreased by less than 1 percent” in the 30 years since the  UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted.

With the current policies and commitments, we will hit betweeen 2.5 and 2.8°C  warming by 2100, well beyond the 2°C target, never mind the 1.5°C  target. In fact the report found an almost 50 percent chance that during the next five years, at least one year will exceed the 1.5°C target. If all national pledges are met – which has not been happening – warming could be kept to 1.9 – 2.1°C.

The consequences of a mere 1.1°C of warming are already becoming very apparent; the impacts of a rise above 1.5 or even 2°C will be severe. Within the coming decades, in some parts of the world, temperatures could reach dangerous levels at which outdoor labour becomes impossible. The report notes a five-fold increase in the frequency of weather, climate and water-related disasters in the past 50 years, noting it is costing “on average, US$202 million in losses daily” – that’s DAILY! And as is always the case, “the world’s most vulnerable populations will suffer most, as seen in recent extreme weather events.”

Then there are the health impacts. The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, reports on the health impacts of climate change in the annual Lancet Countdown report. Released in late October, the report proclaimed health is “at the mercy of fossil fuels” and notes “heat-related deaths [among those 65 and older] increased by 68% between 2000–04 and 2017–21”. Among other things, the Countdown reported, “heat exposure led to 470 billion potential labour hours lost globally in 2021” and the potential for the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever was markedly increased, while “every dimension of food security is being affected by climate change.”   

The Countdown urges a ‘health-centred response’, which would “reduce the likelihood of the most catastrophic climate change impacts, while improving energy security, creating an opportunity for economic recovery, and offering immediate health benefits.” Those global health benefits would include preventing many of the 1 – 2 million annual deaths from fossil fuel air pollution, while a shift to a more plant based diet would prevent some 11 million deaths annually.

And what is B.C. doing about this? In short not much. In late October, a coalition of over 450 B.C. organisations, representing some 2 million people, issued its first report card on B.C.’s progress in addressing ten urgent climate actions to confront the climate emergency. Six of the ten actions received a failing grade, and for two of the four where there was some progress, most of the detailed actions were also a failing grade.

So here is a challenge for our new B.C. Premier, David Eby, as he takes office: Shuck off the legacy of failure bequeathed you by John Horgan and become a true climate champion by adopting a health-centred response to climate action and energy-policy. Next week, I will discuss what such a policy would look like.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Earth for All: Fair shares for the rest of humanity

  • Published as The human and environmental cost of growth-obsessed ‘extractivism’

Dr. Trevor Hancock

25 October 2022

700 words

The new Club of Rome report ‘Earth For All’ addresses the two greatest challenges facing humanity: The massive and rapid ecological ‘triple crisis’ of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – to which I would add resource depletion – and the social crisis of massive inequality. Importantly, it links these two crises to a common source: the growth-obsessed neo-liberal extractivist economy. As a result, much of the report’s focus is on the need for “unprecedented economic shifts in a single generation – actually, within a single decade.”

While the term ‘extractivism’ is being used more often in the critical analysis of the failures of our economic system, it is perhaps not a widely understood concept. In brief, we have an economic system that extracts both renewable and non-renewable natural resources – often generating a lot of local and even regional or global ecological damage, then processes, distributes and uses them – again, often generating further ecological harm, and finally discards them, with further harm resulting.

But extractivism also has a social and human cost. Only too often, resources are extracted by large multi-national corporations in low-income countries or disadvantaged communities where protection of workers, communities and the environment is lax, or poorly enforced, or undermined by corruption. As a result, while ostensibly intended to create local development, the process can perpetuate poverty and poor living conditions, while creating local environmental harm.

Humans have extracted resources for millennia, but the scale of extraction today is massive and often unsustainable. It is well represented by the ecological footprint, which expresses our use of resources and generation of pollution (specifically, carbon dioxide) in terms of the amount of bio-productive land needed to support that activity. This includes our use of crop and grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds and built-up land, as well as the amount of land needed to absorb our carbon dioxide emissions. It is, if anything, an undersestimate, since it does not measure other forms of pollution, nor does it reflect the loss of biodiversity.

The most recent report from the Global Footprint Network and York University has data up to  2018. Globally, we used at least 1.8 times the amount of bio-productive land available, usually expressed as 1.8 Earths;  clearly, that is unsustainable. But the demand placed on the Earth varies, with the 1.1 billion people in the 48 high-income countries using on average 3.8 Earths, while the 950 million people in the 36 low-income countries used only 0.7 Earths.

Canada has one of the largest footprints, at 5.1 Earths. In other words, we use 5.1 times our fair share of the Earth’s biocapacity and resources. Meanwhile, almost 1 billion people in low-income countries lack the economic and social development needed to meet basic human needs for all. Clearly, the authors of ‘Earth For All’ note, “low-income countries need to grow their economies”, adding that this can be done in an ecologically sustainable manner.

At the same time, it goes without saying, high-income countries – and for that matter, the 47 upper-middle-income countries (such as Algeria, Belize, Fiji or Malaysia) that have an average footprint of 2.2 Earths – need to reduce their footprints; in the case of Canada, by 80 percent. While this may seem daunting, it is worth remembering that 65 percent of Canada’s footprint is attributable to our carbon emissions, which is another reason why the rapid shift to a low-carbon, net-zero enegy system is so vitally important. A shift to a low-meat diet would also significantly reduce our footprint, while improving our health. So, as the report’s authors say, this is doable.

The ‘five great turnarounds’ proposed in ‘Earth For All’ aim to “reduce unfair and unnecessary material footprints”, while at the same time ensuring that the rest of the world – the 3.8 billion people outside the high and high-middle-income countries – have a fair share of the Earth’s resources and are able to meet their human and social development needs.

I will describe the three ‘great turnarounds’ that take aim at poverty, inequality and gender equity next week. But our role, locally, must be to reduce our ecological footprint – especially our carbon and food footprints – while supporting federal policies that favour fair and clean development in low-income countries.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022


Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy