Today the sun stands still: Thoughts on Solstice

Trevor Hancock, 21 December 2022

Based on remarks at the Gorge Tillicum Community’s ‘Lights on the Gorge’ event, where children are an important part of the audience


Today is Midwinter’s Day, and today the sun stands still!

Now that may sound a bit worrying, even a little scary, but, it is actually very good news. You see, for six long months the sun has risen and set a bit further south each day, so each day the nights have grown longer, the days have grown shorter, the weather colder.

But now, finally, the sun will stop moving south. It will stand still, and then it will start its annual trek back to the north again, bringing shorter nights, longer days and warmer weather. Then comes Midsummer’s Day, when once again the sun will stand still, and then start heading south, beginning the whole cycle again.

The fact the sun stands still twice a year – on Midwinter’s and Midsummer’s Days – is what gives us one of the other names for this day – Solstice. Why Solstice, what does that mean? Well, it comes from Latin; sol – the sun – and sistere – to stand still.


It is reassuring to know the sun stood still this time last year, and the year before that, and the year before that – way back into the depths of history. The ancient ones knew it, they were keen observers of the sun and the moon and the stars, more so than most of us are today.

Think back a few thousand years, before coal and oil and electricity, before towns and cities and street lights. Imagine how dark it was, how ever-present was the the sky at night, the vast arc of the Milky Way, the moon, the stars, the moving stars that are the planets, perhaps the Northern Lights. – how impressive, how awe-inspiring it all was.

But imagine also how scary such darkness must have been, full of predators and scary monsters and things that go bump in the night. And for half a year our ancestors would have seen the days getting shorter, the nights longer and darker and colder, the crops all harvested, nothing growing, hunting difficult, their animals shivering and barely surviving. The winter was a time of hardship.

So wouldn’t you long for the end of that long, slow slide towards darkness and cold? Wouldn’t you long for the turning of the year, the day when the sun stops its southward drift, when – even though we know there are still cold, dark, hard days ahead – the days start to get longer, the darkness starts to go away.

But wouldn’t you also worry that perhaps this year the wheel won’t turn, the slide into darkness and cold will continue, that the light will never return. Wouldn’t you pray for the return of the light, make offerings  to ensure the wheel turns.

So wouldn’t you celebrate that night – the shortest night, the turning of the year – with its promise of longer, warmer days to come, of spring and summer, of new crops and easier living, even knowing that the wheel of time will keep turning, that in its turn the longest day will come and the cycle will start all over again. Wouldn’t you light fires – and perhaps jump over them – wouldn’t you light the lamps, wouldn’t you feast a bit, and drink a bit, and sing a bit, and dance a bit – perhaps even a lot!


But all that hinges on being strongly aware of and connected to nature, to the land and the waters and the sky, and to what Indigenous people call ‘all our relations’. Sadly, that is no longer the case. There is a famous and true story from Los Angeles at the time of the 1994 earthquake, when power failed and the lights went out. People saw a strange glowing mass in the sky, and they were worrried, some were scared and some even went so far as to call the emergency services to report it – was the sky falling, were aliens attacking, what was going on?

Well, you guessed it – for the first time in their lives, people were seeing the Milky Way, and they didn’t know what it was. It is a powerful example of one of the great tragedies of our age, and an important contributor to the many challenges we face; our huge disconnect from nature, from Mother Earth, from all that sustains us.

We need to re-establish that connection with nature if we have any hope of addressing our challenges. We need to learn again to respect and cherish and protect nature, to make peace with nature, as the UN Secretary General has put it.

In particular, we need to ensure that our children and grandchildren have a strong connection to nature – why else would they respect and cherish and protect and live in peace with nature.

One important place to begin is to re-connect to the great cycles of nature, to the summer and winter solstice, to the spring and fall equinoxes – another Latin word, one that means equal nights, the two times a year when day and night are of equal length.

Which is why we are here, to mark the Winter Solstice, the turning of the year, when the days start to lengthen again, when the light starts to return.

A Happy Solstice to you all!


Reconciliation must include the Earth

  • (Published as “Reconciliation with the planet includes Indigenous Peoples’)

In the rush to protect nature, the human rights of Indigenous people should not be violated — as has happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Nepal.

Dr. Trevor Hancock

13 December 2022

701 words

“Reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, from an Aboriginal perspective”, wrote the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, “also requires reconciliation with the natural world. If human beings resolve problems between themselves but continue to destroy the natural world, then reconciliation remains incomplete.” As Commissioners, they added, “this is a perspective that we have repeatedly heard: that reconciliation will never occur unless we are also reconciled with the earth.”

That astute observation is particularly pertinent as the nations of the world meet at COP15 in Montreal to negotiate a new Global Biodiversity Framework. A prominent theme going into the negotiations has been the role of Indigenous people in protecting and enhancing biodiversity, something the UN has been emphasising for several years.

In a speech on the state of the world in December 2020, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke specifically to the importance of Indigenous people as protectors of nature, calling on nations to “heed their voices, reward their knowledge and respect their rights.” The rights of Indigenous peoples with respect to their traditional lands, territories and resources are addressed in a number of Articles (especially Articles 25 -29 and 32) in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which both Canada and B.C. have recognised and adopted into legislation.

Pointing out that “Indigenous peoples make up less than 6 percent of the world’s population yet are stewards of 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity on land”, Mr Guterres noted that “nature managed by indigenous peoples is declining less rapidly than elsewhere.” Thus, he suggested, “Indigenous knowledge, distilled over millennia of close and direct contact with nature, can help to point the way” towards protection of nature.

His remarks were rooted in a number of UN agency reports, including 2019 reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the UN Department of Social and Economic Development Affairs and the UN Environment Programme’s Global Environment Outlook, as well as the 2020 Human Development Report, all of which stressed the importance of Indigenous knowledge and approaches.

With COP15 being held in Montreal, headquarters of the Secretariat for the Convention on Biodiversity, Canada is not surprisingly playing a leading role. At the opening ceremony, Prime Minister Trudeau joined the call by the UK, France and Costa Rica, to conserve 30 percent of the Earth’s land and waters by 2030. He claimed Canada is on track to protect 25 percent by 2025 and that 30 percent by 2030 is “quite feasible.”

In an accompanying news release, Trudeau noted “Indigenous Peoples have been caring for the lands and waters of Canada since time immemorial” and that they “have unique relationships with nature and knowledge of responsible stewardship as a way of life.” He announced $800 million over seven years, starting in 2023-24, to support up to four large-scale Indigenous-led conservation initiatives in Canada’s North. Canada has also just created the First Nations Guardian Network – a world first – to support Guardians in stewarding and monitoring their territories.

Which all sounds good, except that there are questions about what ‘protection’ really means, and the potential impacts on Indigenous peoples. A December 8th article in The Narwhal reports that Trudeau revealed in an interview that “some resource extraction may be allowed in conserved areas.”

Presumably that is what prompted James Snider of World Wildlife Fund Canada, in the same article, to ask “what do we mean by protected and conserved areas?”, while Charlotte Dawe, of the Wilderness Committee, comments that she has  “stood in freshly logged ‘protected areas’ supposedly made for the conservation of wildlife”. That hardly equates to protection.

Moreover, the protection of nature must not come at the expense of Indigenous people, a point stressed by the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity as well as by three UN Special rapporteurs on human rights. Both groups are concerned that in the rush to protect nature, the human rights of Indigenous people may be violated. Indeed Indigenous people have been evicted or threatened with eviction from ‘protected’ areas, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania and Nepal.

So not only must reconciliation include the Earth, it must also – of course – include reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada and around the world.

© 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

The other COP – Biodiversity is fundamental to our health

Published as “In tackling biodiversity loss, it’s actions that matter, not words”

The degradation of nature and loss of biodiversity is a degradation of and loss to humanity, an existential threat to society, and indeed to humanity as a whole.

Dr. Trevor Hancock

6 December 2022

700 words

Speaking at the Stockholm+50 conference in June, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres identified a “triple planetary crisis” – climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.  The first of these – climate change –  was the subject of the UN’s 27th Climate Summit (COP27) in Sharm el Sheikh last month. The second – biodiversity loss – is the subject of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15), which began in Montreal, this past week.

The web of life is absolutely fundamental to our health and wellbeing, indeed, to our very existence. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the materials and energy we use – they all come from nature. We are part of the web of life, and as the Duwamish elder, Chief Seattle, is recorded as saying more than 150 years ago, “whatever we do to the web of life, we do to ourselves”.

The degradation of nature and the loss of biodiversity – the loss of the other beings that are, as Indigenous people put it, ‘all our relations’ – is a degradation of and loss to humanity, an existential threat to society, and indeed to humanity as a whole. As an editorial in The Lancet Planetary Health journal put it, the global biodiversity crisis is “one of the great threats to planetary health.”

The scale of biodiversity loss is dramatic and unnerving, but is not as widely understood and has not generated as much public concern as it should. The 2020 report ‘Global Biodiversity Outlook 5’ (GBO-5) stated “Biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and the pressures driving this decline are intensifying.” Those pressures include economic growth, population growth, unsustainable resource extraction (forests, fisheries and the like) and an unsustainable high-meat diet.

The GBO-5 was also a report on the world’s progress in achieving the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets that were adopted in 2010. None were fully met, and only  6 were even partially met. So while the intention at COP15 is to agree to a new global biodiversity framework for the next decade, it will be actions, not words, that matter.

This loss of biodiversity is also seen in Canada and in B.C.  A joint report released this month by the federal, provincial and territorial governments finds Canada is home to about 80,000 species (not including bacteria or viruses). The report covers 50,534 species; however, there is only enough data available to provide an assessment for 24,483 species.

Of these, one in five are either critically imperiled, imperiled or vulnerable, while 128 species  – mainly plants and insects – are considered extirpated (likely disappeared from Canada, but still found elsewhere), while 7, not found elsewhere, are considered extinct globally.

One of the keys to biodiversity conservation is habitat protection. Canada is steward of the second-largest remaining areas of intact nature in the world, and in 2020 Canada pledged to protect 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030. But at the time, Canada was only protecting 12 percent, and a 2022 release from Environment Canada reports “at the end of 2021, Canada had conserved 13.5 percent of its land area [and] 13.9 percent of its marine territory.”

Given that “expanding to 30 percent from 12 percent means adding an area roughly equivalent to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba combined”, according to UBC researcher Matthew Mitchell, it seem unlikely that target will be reached. And it is certainly not helped by the outrageous plans by the Ontario government to pave over large parts of Toronto’s green belt for housing, which will also worsen urban sprawl.

As to B.C., which a November report from the Wilderness Committee and Sierra Club BC notes is “home to the highest amount of biodiversity in Canada, but also home to the greatest number of species at risk”, their report finds “current federal and provincial legislation are not safeguarding biodiversity and species at risk.”

Most glaringly, of course, is John Horgan’s failure to keep his 2017 commitment to bring in a Species at Risk Act. For the sake of all of us, and all our relations, let’s hope Premier David Eby has more integrity and a greater commitment to protect and restore BC’s environment and biodiversity than his predecessor.

© 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 requires more equal shares for all

  • (Published as “Playing field needs to be tilted in favour of low-income countries for a while”)

Many of the problems faced by low-income countries are rooted in systems, institutions and corporations set up largely to benefit high-income countries.

Dr. Trevor Hancock

29 November 2022

700 words

I was fortunate to be born in a fairly peaceful high-income country. I had a high standard of living while growing up, with enough energy, food, water and other resources to lead a good life. I am fortunate to have never experienced war, real hunger or starvation, serious poverty or homelessness.

However, we know that this is not the case in many parts of the world. We live in a world where many lack access to even the most basic necessities of life – clean air and water, enough food that is safe and nutritious, adequate shelter, basic education and health care, not to mention those who are also caught up in war or civil strife. Small wonder then that there are massive inequalities in health.

‘Earth For All’, the recent report to the Club of Rome, identified three major global equity challenges: Ending poverty globally, addressing gross inequality within nations and empowering women. To meet those challenges, the authors say, we need transformative change to create a greater equality of opportunity for everyone in the world to share in the benefits of the Earth’s bounty.

This week I explore the solutions proposed in the report to the first equity challenge, ending poverty globally, which is rooted in inequalities in wealth and, perhaps even more important, in power between nations and people. These inequalities are embedded in and worsened by the current world economic system. Next week, I will look at what ‘Earth For All’ has to say about addressing gross inequality within countries and empowering women.

The report notes “the billion richest individuals account for 72 percent of the overall consumption of resources, while the poorest 1.2 billion . . . consume only 1 percent.” Clearly, the poorest countries require a greater share of economic development and wealth so they can meet the basic human development needs of their people. Ending global poverty, say the authors, is feasible, but it requires low-income countries to grow their economies by 5 percent annually so they can deal with both poverty and the unequal consequences of climate change they face.

But in a finite world, an increased share for low-income countries and populations requires a reduction in the excessive share taken by high-income countries and people. A small reduction in the share taken by the richest translates into a very large increase in the wealth and consumption of the poorest people and countries. We need to recognize, as Gandhi said, “There is enough on Earth for everybody’s need but not for everyone’s greed.”

Accomplishing this, they write, requires high-income countries to “provide all possible support to low-income economies”. This will mean debt-forgiveness, low or zero-interest loans, and support for public investment in key infrastructure, which can be financed by a combination of taxes on the rich and on corporations – although the latter will require reforming taxes globally to eliminate tax havens.

It will also mean revising the system whereby high-income countries export their dirty production – and its accompanying wastes and emissions – to low-income countries, thus benefitting from the consumption of the goods without bearing the full costs of production.

One way to accomplish this would be to legislate a Green New Deal in which transnational corporations are required to invest only in green industries in low-income countries, not in polluting industries.

This should be accompanied by technology transfer and reform of the intellectual property laws to ensure that new green technologies are rapidly available to the low-income countries that need them. Moreover, green industries in low-income countries need protection from international competition in their start-up phase; regional trading blocks should be encouraged and protected.

Many of the problems faced by low-income countries, Earth For All shows, are rooted in multi-lateral institutions (such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization), public and private-sector financing systems and transnational corporations that are set up largely to benefit high-income countries.

While ultimately we need a level playing field, for now the field needs to be tilted in the other direction for a while, to create greater equality of opportunity, wealth and power between nations so we can eliminate poverty, and all the human misery, disease and premature death that accompanies it.

© 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

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

Earth for all, not just for some

Dr. Trevor Hancock

18 October 2022

700 words

Way back in 1977, the World Health Organization declared the goal of achieving Health For All by the Year 2000. This should be understood in the way the US Public Health Service defined a goal in 1980: “a timeless statement of aspiration”. Clearly Health For All was not achieved, and is still not achieved today. But nonetheless the idea – indeed, the ideal – is important, and it inspired many people, including me.

What is particularly noteworthy is the focus on ‘all’. In my presentations, I always point out it is not health for a few, not just for some, not even for many, but for all. It stems from a deeply humane concern to include everyone, to ensure everyone in the world enjoys good health.

But the ultimate determinant of the health of everyone in the world is the state of the natural ecosystems of which we are a part, coupled with the extent to which the Earth’s natural resources and biocapacity are fairly distributed within and between societies. Which brings me to ‘Earth For All’, a report to the Club of Rome that I mentioned in my August 28th column and is now published.

The report comes 50 years after the Club of Rome released ‘The Limits to Growth’, a ground-breaking and controversial exploration of the future of humanity and the Earth. That 1972 report used a ‘world systems model’ to explore several alternative development scenarios. It found that ‘business as usual’ (BAU) led to ecological overshoot and societal collapse in the mid-21st century – now 30 years away. It also found plausible alternative development paths that could avoid collapse – but regrettably, we did not take them then, and are not taking them now.

‘Earth For All’ builds on the ‘Limits to Growth’, using an updated model to revisit the different scenarios. In addition to BAU, the report examines two alternatives to BAU, one of which assumes twice as much resources are found and used as in the original scenario, while the third assumes a dramatic increase in technology. A fourth scenario was a route to a stabilised world through large scale societal change.

One of the researchers, Gaya Herrington, looked at how the actual data over the past 40 years for the main elements of the model compared to the trends in the scenarios. She found that “the first three scenarios most accurately tracked the actual data”, which, the authors note, “should set off alarm bells.”

Both BAU and BAU with double resources led to societal collapse in the 21st century, the first because “material consumption crashed up against planetary boundaries”,  the second because with twice as many resources “inefficient overuse continued for longer”, resulting in “the biggest collapse due to excessive pollution.” The ‘high tech’ scenario led to serious declines, but not collapse; only the ‘stabilised world’ scenario led to “widespread increases in human welfare and popualtion stabilization.”

Importantly, in her foreword, Christiana Figueres – a notable global leader on climate change – makes the point that we face a metacrisis that includes “climate chaos, environmental degradation and perverse inequality.” Not only do those crises interact, she writes, they “all share the same deep root: extractivism . . . [that] not only deplete the planet . . . it also depletes our human souls.”

The main focus of the book, however – and the accompanying Earth4All website – is not on the problems, but the solutions. The authors note in their opening chapter that “the long-term potential of humanity depends upon civilization . . . undergoing five extraordinary turnarounds within the coming decades.” And they take an optimistic stance: “Our analysis indicates its fully doable” and “can be achieved by 2050.”

The first three of those turnarounds are focused on inequality, underscoring that it is Earth for Alll, not Earth for a few, some or many: Ending poverty, addressing gross inequality and empowering women. The fourth is to “make our food system healthy for people and ecosystems” and the fifth is to transition to clean energy. I will address these turnarounds in the coming weeks, linking them to local action in this region. Given their importance, they should be a key focus for the new municipal councils we have just elected.

© 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