Ethics Musings religion

Non-believers on the meaning of life

Sunday, December24, 2012

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

I am not sure that Paul the Apostle had this in mind when he wrote these words but when I was child, and I heard them, it gave me licence to think. After many years I finally arrived at the same conclusion as most of the people below. By clicking on each picture, you will be taken inside their thoughts. I would not be surprised to find that the statistics that Harriet shows us are accurate after a year of Covid-19.
(If reading on a mobile, picture follows text)

Harriet Sherwood Photographs and interviews: Aubrey Wade @harrietsherwood
Sat 23 Jan 2021 10.00 GMT

Lola Tinubu, 53, is an atheist and a humanist who lives in London. She is the co-founder of the Association of Black Humanists, a group for people, particularly from the African diaspora, who are free thinkers, nonbelievers, atheists, and humanists.

Adam Cardone, 47, is a stage magician and a reverend in the Church of Satan, New York City. He is an atheistic agnostic: someone who doesn’t believe in a deity, while holding that a deity’s existence is unknowable.

Robert Freudenthal, 34, is a member of a liberal synagogue in London. He describes himself as Jewish but not God-centred. When he got married a few years ago, he decided to explore different ways to think about God.

Hedda Frøland, 18, is a member of the Humanist Youth Group in Sandnes, Norway. Both secular and Christian confirmation ceremonies remain culturally important in Norway. Wearing a nordlandsbunad, a traditional embroidered costume, Frøland took part in a humanist ceremony, the choice of around 18% of 15-year-olds.

Ron Millar, 63, from Washington DC, runs the Freethought Equality Fund Political Action Committee, which helps candidates seeking election to public office who openly identify as humanist, atheist and agnostic. In 1988, he was the campaign manager for the first openly gay candidate running for the city council.

Yuko Atarashi, 46, is studying to be a Noh theatre actor in Tokyo. Noh is a form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. The plays often feature a supernatural being, transformed into human form, narrating a story. Japan regularly ranks as one of the world’s most atheist countries, although many people still engage in Buddhist and Shinto rituals.

Apostle Erlon Jacques, 47, leads the last practising congregation of positivists in the world, at the Temple of Humanity in Porto Alegre, Brazil. The secular religion was developed by Auguste Comte, the French philosopher, in the mid-1800s. It was adopted by key political figures in the establishment of the first Brazilian republic. Comte imagined a science-based positivist society in which religion would still be necessary but would no longer require a god to have moral force. The primary tenets of the religion are altruism, order and progress.

Jake Vargas, 25, a student in Lincoln, Nebraska, doesn’t “believe in the supernatural world at all”.

climate environment Musings Philosophy


Friday, May 19, 2023

The 5 Ws usually refer to what, where, when and why. In this case, it refers to We Will Do What We Want. It seems also true that We Will Believe What We Want to Believe. That might be the reason that after one week after I published “Who are We to Believe,” the only comment I received is from Bob Coupland. Maybe I do not need to say more. Here is his comment in full:

“After listening to the Sunday Edition interview with Geoffrey Hinton and the entirety of the Joe Rogan interview with Aseem Malhotra, I am left with the fear that the use of AI will lead us to wonder, much more than we do now, who and what, if anything at all, we can trust and believe. Imagine wandering, lost in the wilderness, wondering which way to turn.”

I knew that a 3-hour interview would provide so much data that we would have a lot of difficulty taking it all in. I also know that it is difficult for good citizens such as us not to believe that our leaders are taking care of us. Skepticism and cynicism are traits that belong to the other side. But when asked by a daughter and granddaughter to listen with an open mind, I listened carefully, and while I still do not know whether vaccinations are good or bad, I did hear very clearly what Aseem was saying in the subtext.

It is simply this: All big corporations have one goal in mind, and that is to maximize their profits. Maybe I should not put all the blame on the big guys. Even the little guy, such as a cod fisherman, may not do what is right for society when his own livelihood is at stake. Or even me. Do I not rationalize all my actions? Wasn’t it in 1983 that Gro Harlem Brundtland said that sustainable development was an oxymoron?

A little aside here: Pat, my late wife, once told me that I never listen to her. I countered that I did listen; I just chose to ignore what she said. (and do my own thing). Listening and heeding are not the same things. Similarly, teaching does not imply learning.

We have heard of, seen, or experienced several serious events in the past week. The one most in the news in Canada is the wildfires out west. There is very little doubt that they are the result of global warming. Are those of us living in Ontario, a province with huge northern forests, unaware that we are just as vulnerable? Don’t you find it laughable that just as we were becoming aware of global warming, we actually wanted to use our vast forests as an argument that we could get away with doing nothing? At the same time, we were the worst per capita emitters of CO2. And incidentally, still are!

I find it very refreshing to have someone labelled the godfather of AI realize the harm he may have done and decide to quit. Yet that is precisely what Geoffrey Hinton has done. We have yet to hear what the corporations are going to do about it. Here are links to a couple of interviews with him: CBC Podcast, CBS interview

Naomi Klein has contributed much in the past to our well-being. Here is her latest about the promise of AI in an essay subtitled. “Tech CEOs want us to believe that generative AI will benefit humanity. They are kidding themselves”. The full article may be found in a London Guardian article here.

Here is a shortened pop-up if you cannot access the original article

We live in a time of such rapid change that we cannot cope. At the same time, we are aging and losing the workforce that we need to contribute to social welfare. Governments realize this and up the number of immigrants. Everything we do to mitigate against one problem brings another seemingly more dire. And the latest global temperature report shows we are on track to exceed 1.5 degrees by 2027. I do not know what we will do, but I am pretty sure of the following.

We will not lessen the number of homeless people on the streets.
We will not have enough trained people to build the houses we need.
House prices will not come down.
We will not stop travelling.
We will not stop eating meat. (Even chicken is not sustainable.)
The bird and insect populations will continue to decline.
We will try to solve our problems through unsustainable growth.
The earth and all of nature will be better off the sooner we are gone.

James Lovelock, the creator of the Gaia concept, said in 2008 that we had 20 years before climate change hit the fan. He was so right. He also said to live it up because there is no long-term future. I have already started to carry out his advice.

I also wish that I could promise that this would be my last post on the topic.

She disputes that "Generative AI will end poverty. It will cure all diseases. It will solve climate change. It will make our jobs more meaningful and exciting. It will unleash lives of leisure and contemplation, helping us reclaim the humanity we have lost to late capitalist mechanization. It will end loneliness. It will make our governments rational and responsive. I fear these are the real AI hallucinations, and we have all been hearing them on a loop since Chat GPT launched at the end of last year."

Hallucination #1: AI will solve the climate crisis

Almost invariably topping the lists of AI upsides is the claim that these systems will somehow solve the climate crisis. We have heard this from everyone from the World Economic Forum to the Council on Foreign Relations to Boston Consulting Group, which explains that AI “can be used to support all stakeholders in taking a more informed and data-driven approach to combating carbon emissions and building a greener society. It can also be employed to reweight global climate efforts toward the most at-risk regions.” The former Google CEO Eric Schmidt summed up the case when he told the Atlantic that AI’s risks were worth taking, because “If you think about the biggest problems in the world, they are all really hard – climate change, human organizations, and so forth. And so, I always want people to be smarter.”

According to this logic, the failure to “solve” big problems like climate change is due to a deficit of smarts. Never mind that smart people, heavy with PhDs and Nobel prizes, have been telling our governments for decades what needs to happen to get out of this mess: slash our emissions, leave carbon in the ground, tackle the overconsumption of the rich and the underconsumption of the poor because no energy source is free of ecological costs.

The reason this very smart counsel has been ignored is not due to a reading comprehension problem, or because we somehow need machines to do our thinking for us. It’s because doing what the climate crisis demands of us would strand trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets, while challenging the consumption-based growth model at the heart of our interconnected economies. (emphasis mine, HC) The climate crisis is not, in fact, a mystery or a riddle we, haven’t yet solved due to insufficiently robust data sets. We know what it would take, but it’s not a quick fix – it’s a paradigm shift. Waiting for machines to spit out a more palatable and/or profitable answer is not a cure for this crisis; it’s one more symptom of it.

Clear away the hallucinations, and it looks far more likely that AI will be brought to market in ways that actively deepen the climate crisis. First, the giant servers that make instant essays and artworks from chatbots possible are an enormous and growing source of carbon emissions. Second, as companies like Coca-Cola start making huge investments to use generative AI to sell more products, it’s becoming all too clear that this new tech will be used in the same ways as the last generation of digital tools: that what begins with lofty promises about spreading freedom and democracy ends up micro-targeting ads at us so that we buy more useless, carbon-spewing stuff.

And there is a third factor, this one a little harder to pin down. The more our media channels are flooded with deep fakes and clones of various kinds, the more we have the feeling of sinking into informational quicksand. Geoffrey Hinton, often referred to as “the godfather of AI” because the neural net he developed more than a decade ago forms the building blocks of today’s large language models, understands this well. He just quit a senior role at Google so that he could speak freely about the risks of the technology he helped create, including, as he told the New York Times, the risk that people will “not be able to know what is true anymore.”

This is highly relevant to the claim that AI will help battle the climate crisis. Because when we are mistrustful of everything we read and see in our increasingly uncanny media environment, we become even less equipped to solve pressing collective problems. The crisis of trust predates ChatGPT, of course, but there is no question that a proliferation of deep fakes will be accompanied by an exponential increase in already thriving conspiracy cultures. So what difference will it make if AI comes up with technological and scientific breakthroughs? If the fabric of shared reality is unravelling in our hands, we will find ourselves unable to respond with any coherence at all.

Hallucination #2: AI will deliver wise governance

This hallucination summons a near future in which politicians and bureaucrats, drawing on the vast aggregated intelligence of AI systems, are able “to see patterns of need and develop evidence-based programs” that have greater benefits to their constituents . That claim comes from a paper published by the Boston Consulting Group’s foundation, but it is being echoed inside many think tanks and management consultancies. And it’s telling that these particular companies – the firms hired by governments and other corporations to identify cost savings, often by firing large numbers of workers – have been quickest to jump on the AI bandwagon. PwC (formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers) just announced a $1bn investment, and Bain & Company, as well as Deloitte, are reportedly enthusiastic about using these tools to make their clients more “efficient.”

As with the climate claims, it is necessary to ask: is the reason politicians impose cruel and ineffective policies that they suffer from a lack of evidence? An inability to “see patterns,” as the BCG paper suggests? Do they not understand the human costs of starving public healthcare amid pandemics, or of failing to invest in non-market housing when tents fill our urban parks, or of approving new fossil fuel infrastructure while temperatures soar? Do they need AI to make them “smarter”, to use Schmidt’s term – or are they precisely smart enough to know who is going to underwrite their next campaign, or, if they stray, bankroll their rivals?

It would be awfully nice if AI really could sever the link between corporate money and reckless policymaking – but that link has everything to do with why companies like Google and Microsoft have been allowed to release their chatbots to the public despite the avalanche of warnings and known risks. Schmidt and others have been on a years-long lobbying campaign telling both parties in Washington that if they aren’t free to barrel ahead with generative AI, unburdened by serious regulation; then Western powers will be left in the dust by China. Last year, the top tech companies spent a record $70m to lobby Washington – more than the oil and gas sector – and that sum, Bloomberg News notes, is on top of the millions spent “on their wide array of trade groups, non-profits and thinktanks”.

And yet, despite their intimate knowledge of precisely how money shapes policy in our national capitals, when you listen to Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI – maker of ChatGPT – talk about the best-case scenarios for his products, all of this seems to be forgotten. Instead, he seems to be hallucinating a world entirely unlike our own, one in which politicians and industry make decisions based on the best data and would never put countless lives at risk for profit and geopolitical advantage. Which brings us to another hallucination.

Hallucination #3: tech giants can be trusted not to break the world

Asked if he is worried about the frantic gold rush ChatGPT has already unleashed, Altman said he is, but added sanguinely: “Hopefully, it will all work out.” Of his fellow tech CEOs – the ones competing to rush out their rival chatbots – he said: “I think the better angels are going to win out.”

Better angels? At Google? I’m pretty sure the company fired most of those because they were publishing critical papers about AI or calling the company out on racism and sexual harassment in the workplace. More “better angels” have quit in alarm, most recently Hinton. That’s because, contrary to the hallucinations of the people profiting most from AI, Google does not make decisions based on what’s best for the world – it makes decisions based on what’s best for Alphabet’s shareholders, who do not want to miss the latest bubble, not when Microsoft, Meta and Apple are already all in.

Hallucination #4: AI will liberate us from drudgery

If Silicon Valley’s benevolent hallucinations seem plausible to many, there is a simple reason for that. Generative AI is currently in what we might think of as its faux-socialism stage. This is part of a now familiar Silicon Valley playbook. First, create an attractive product (a search engine, a mapping tool, a social network, a video platform, a ride share …); give it away for free or almost free for a few years, with no discernible viable business model (“Play around with the bots,” they tell us, “see what fun things you can create!”); make lots of lofty claims about how you are only doing it because you want to create a “town square” or an “information commons” or “connect the people”, all while spreading freedom and democracy (and not being “evil”). Then watch as people get hooked using these free tools, and your competitors declare bankruptcy. Once the field is clear, introduce the targeted ads, the constant surveillance, the police and military contracts, the black-box data sales and the escalating subscription fees.

    Journalistic objectivity is an ideal worth defending
    By Andrew Phillips, Star Columnist,Tue., March 28, 2023

    If you care about journalism, if you consume journalism, and especially — especially — if you are a journalist, then do yourself a favour: look up an article in the Washington Post by Martin Baron on the importance of objectivity in journalism and give it a good read.

    Baron is a legendary editor. While he was at the helm of the Boston Globe and then the Post (from 2013 to 2021) those papers won a string of Pulitzer Prizes. They even made an Oscar-winning movie, “Spotlight,” about his time at the Globe. Now he’s stepped forward with a new defence of an old idea that in recent years has become increasingly discredited.

    Spoiler alert: I agree with him.

    Baron acknowledges off the top that defending objectivity is “terribly unpopular” among journalists these days. The current wisdom is that it’s at best naïve and at worst racist. Everyone has biases, goes the argument, so no one can be truly objective. It’s also dismissed as a cover for false balance and what’s become known as “both-sidesism.”

    Finally, it’s condemned as an expression of the world view of those who historically dominated the media and pretty much everything else: white men. For some critics, the idea of objectivity is the kind of thinking that gave the United States Donald Trump — a fake neutrality that presented his lies on a par with the truth.

    Baron goes back a century to see where the idea of objectivity came from. The 1920s were also a time when, in the words of Walter Lippman, another legendary American journalist, there was “an increasingly angry disillusionment about the press.” Lippman’s solution was to advocate what he called “as impartial an investigation of the facts as is humanly possible.”

    The key point is not to pretend you don’t have biases, but precisely to be aware of them. To set out as a reporter with an open mind, prepared to be surprised and to change your mind along the way. To realize that while the ultimate goal is to seek the truth, the truth about any subject on any particular day is elusive, to say the least.

    “None of these statements argues for false balance,” Baron writes. “They argue for genuine understanding of all people and perspectives and a receptivity to learning unfamiliar facts.

    “None argue for ignoring or soft-pedalling the revelations of our reporting. They are arguments for exhaustively thorough and open-minded research.

    “None of them are arguments against moral values in our work. Of course, we as a profession must have a moral core, and it begins with valuing truth, equal and fair treatment of all people, giving voice to the voiceless and the vulnerable, countering hate and violence, safeguarding freedom of expression and democratic values, and rejecting abuses of power.”

    At the same time, he says, those same ideas argue against journalists setting themselves up as moral authorities. They argue against “stories that are pre-cooked before a lick of research is conducted, where source selection is an exercise in confirmation bias …”

    And, importantly, “all argue against a madcap rush to social media soapboxes with spur-of-the-moment feelings or irrepressible snark and virtue signalling.”

    That last point in particular landed Baron in controversy at the Post. Some younger journalists, and journalists of colour, resented that approach as an attempt to muzzle them. What’s the point of encouraging diversity on your staff if you don’t allow them to express their full selves, went the complaint.

    That was typical of tensions inside many newsrooms at the time (and indeed now), and it’s behind much of the contempt for the very concept of objectivity in journalistic circles these days. But I agree with Baron that it’s misguided.

    Most of the public, he says, expects journalists to be objective in the way he understands it — as professionals out to find the truth, even if it doesn’t fit neatly with our preconceived notions. (Here they really mean reporters and editors, not us opinion-mongers.)

    That’s my sense, too. As we fight to keep the trust of readers and viewers, it’s a fundamental mistake to toss that ideal aside.

    Andrew Phillips

    Andrew Phillips is a Toronto-based staff columnist for the Star's Opinion page. Reach him via email:

    Carbon capture too expensive takes too long to build

    Amanda Stephenson, The Associated Press, Feb. 9, 2023 7:53 a.m. EST

    CALGARY - By betting it can solve its emissions problem with carbon capture and storage, Canada's oil and gas industry risks saddling itself with expensive stranded assets, a new report argues.
    The report, released Thursday by the International Institute for Sustainable Development -- a Winnipeg-based think-tank that focuses on climate and sustainable resource development -- concludes carbon capture and storage technology costs too much and takes too long to build to have any hope of helping industry meet Canada's 2030 emissions reductions target.

    Calling the technology "expensive, energy-intensive (and) unproven at scale," the report urges the federal government not to put any more public money into the oil and gas industry for carbon capture deployment.

    "The opportunity cost of investing in CCS and the risk of stranded assets for Canada's oil and gas sector will intensify as global climate ambition ratchets up and demand for oil and gas declines."

    Carbon capture and storage is a technology that captures greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sources and stores them deep in the ground to prevent them from being released into the atmosphere.

    The technology has existed for decades, but it's expensive and has been slow to scale up. There are currently just seven CCS projects currently operating in Canada, mostly in the oil and gas sector, and only 30 commercial-scale CCS projects in operation globally.

    Still, the oil and gas industry has high hopes for the technology, with a number of new projects in the planning stage in Canada. Most notably, the Pathways Alliance -- a consortium of the country's six largest oilsands companies -- has proposed a major carbon capture and storage transportation line that would capture CO2 from oilsands facilities and transport it to a storage facility near Cold Lake, Alta.

    While a final investment decision has not been made, the project is estimated to cost $16.5 billion and is the centrepiece of the Pathways group's total $24.1-billion pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from oilsands production by 22 million tonnes by 2030.

    "The oil sector in Canada has been identifying CCS as the major component of its plan to bring down emissions," said Angela Carter, co-author of the IID report.

    "In fact, some industry representatives, frame CCS as the only option to make the kind of large inroads that are needed to reduce emissions in the oil and gas sector. It's very much like the industry is putting all of its eggs in the basket of CCS."

    In a recent op-ed, James Millar -- president and CEO of the International CCS Knowledge Centre in Regina, Sask. -- argued that carbon capture is a way for Canada to "have its environmental cake, and eat it too."

    Millar said the wide-scale deployment of carbon capture technology will allow for a transition to net zero "while maintaining the viability of industries that have long-sustained communities and workforces across the country."

    "To build this capacity, the industry is looking for strong signals that investments in CCS and other emissions reduction technologies align with Canada's low-carbon future," Millar said.

    "Wider investment in CCS requires clear policy providing long-term certainty on carbon pricing, along with other mechanisms that will ensure Canada remains an attractive location (especially when compared to the United States) to undertake multi-billion-dollar projects."

    Carter said this kind of continued lobbying by the industry for more government funding and regulatory support for carbon capture projects, above and beyond the investment tax credit announced in last year's federal budget, is problematic.

    She pointed out that the seven CCS projects currently operating in Canada capture just 0.5 percent of national emissions, and that ramping that up to significant levels by 2030 would require massive government subsidies.

    "CCS has been over-promised and under-delivered," she said, adding a more cost-effective use of public funds would be to encourage near-term emissions cuts through regulations, such as the federal methane rules currently under development.

    Government should also be focusing on energy efficiency and electrification, as well as planning for a long-term decline in oil and gas production, Carter said.

    In a report published last August, BMO Capital Markets argued that the government can and must do more to get carbon capture projects up and running in this country.

    The report said the Inflation Reduction Act south of the border ensures roughly two-thirds of carbon capture project costs (capital and operating costs) are covered by the U.S. government.

    By comparison, the BMO report said, the investor tax credit announced by the Canadian federal government in 2022 would cover less than 15 percent of the proposed Pathways Alliance carbon capture project's total costs by 2050.

    "We believe the U.S. policy advancement further underscores the need for substantially more robust policy incentives to bolster Canada's competitive position in the decarbonization race," the BMO report stated.

    England’s tallest wind turbine prepares to rise against the odds

    A renewable project on edge of Bristol has overcome planning hurdles and will empower local housing estate

    Two existing wind turbines in the background of the Lawrence Weston construction site.
    Two existing wind turbines in the background of the Lawrence Weston construction site where a 150m turbine is about to be erected. Photograph: Lizzie Goldsack

    Tom Wall in the Guardian, Thu 9 Feb 2023 17.30 GMT

    A muddy, forgotten patch of land, sandwiched between a gas power station and a car breakage plant, will be home to England’s tallest wind turbine by the end of next week.

    The turbine, which will stand 150 metres tall from its base to the tip of its blade, is owned by a group of residents from nearby Lawrence Weston, a deprived housing estate on the fringes of Bristol, and some of the income it generates will be used to help the local community.

    Mark Pepper, who founded Ambition Lawrence Weston to regenerate the estate, where he has lived his entire life, says it is a relief to see construction finally begin after seven years of fundraising, meetings, and complying with planning requirements introduced by the former prime minister, David Cameron, which have made new onshore windfarms a rarity in England

    “It is a massive achievement that we’ve managed to pull off as an impoverished community,” he says in the estate’s community centre, which is the base for the group and less than five miles from the turbine. “I’m hoping it will give confidence to people that they can achieve things, confidence that they’ve got a better, brighter future and a stronger connection with the climate emergency.”

    The turbine, which has a maximum capacity of 4.2MW, is expected to start selling energy to the grid from May and generate upwards of £100,000 a year for Lawrence Weston. Pepper says the desperately needed revenue will go into helping residents hit by the energy crisis, including draught-proofing homes, providing energy-saving devices like slow cookers, and boosting emergency funds.

    “People on pre-paid meters are self-disconnecting. Today I’ve just signed 12 applications for £100 each to pay for people’s emergency credit as they’ve run out. They are on brink of having no heating or power,” says Pepper. “There are single parents, working families, and retired people – it’s a real mix.”

    Engineers from Ambition Community Energy, which will be managing the turbine on behalf of Ambition Lawrence Weston, are on-site to see a 121m crane assemble the four remaining sections of the turbine tower, which weigh 80 tonnes each. The base of the tower is secured on 22m deep concrete and steel reinforced foundations, which will anchor the turbine in the fiercest of storms.

    “There is a massive downforce [from the foundations] to make sure this thing doesn’t take off,” explains Charles Gamble, the community interest company’s electrical engineer, as he walks around the perimeter of the site. “In some freak storm, you’d have this enormous lever trying to push the entire turbine over but it won’t because it’s engineered by smart people.”

    Ground near Avonmouth is prepared for the construction of Ambition Lawrence Weston’s wind turbine.

    Gamble says turbines like this should be going up across the country. “This country is blessed with so much wind. We should have turbines everywhere. We’re all paying this turbine a lot of attention but if this was Denmark or Germany, it would be a daily experience.”

    In Past, Welland River Vital Commerce Route

    [Donald Guest, Welland Tribune April 29, 1961]

    In this age of instant coffee, instant puddings, and add-water mixes, it is difficult to become enthusiastic over some project which may not start until years from now.

    However, such a project is now getting the support of several organizations, in the peninsula and the following three articles will describe the previous history and future potential of the project to give the general public the groundwork on which to build their support for this work known as the revitalization of the Welland River.

    The early history of the Welland River or Chippewa Creek as it was then known, is the history of rugged Peninsular enterprise and the bases for export to Europe of many of our products. Chippawa, means “men without moccasins”, and the basis of the name is unknown to the writer.

    For many years, the Chippawa River was the only means of getting to and from the interior of Lincoln County. First the Indian, and then the white man, with progressively better boats made use of the river. In 1856, the Peninsula was divided and the southern part was called Welland County, through which the river ran.


    As, thanks to the river, the surrounding area became more settled, docks and small villages came to life along the route of commerce. To name some—Beckett’s Bridge, O’Reilly’s Bridge, Canadasville, Port Fanny. Brown’s Point, Henlins Dock, Wellandport, and Oswego, which was at the limit of navigation because of shallow water.

    Cordwood and grain were the principal items of export which were loaded at the various docks and taken to Black Rock, now a part of Buffalo. Owing to the irregular nature of the river bank, horses could not be used to tow the scows ad originally the scows were poled—many men with wooden poles pushed these great weights by hand for the entire journey. However, as the demand for speedier transportation was required, because of the increase in river traffic, powerful steam tugs were introduced. The first one was the “Notless”, owned by George Sutherland of Wellandport. This was the forerunner of many more tugs, built at Abbey Shipyards at Port Robinson and the Beatty Shipyards at Welland.

    Tug names such as Peter Bennett, Maggie R King, Maggie Bennett, and Five Brothers were prominent in the area of 1863. Names of operators of this area included Joseph Blackwell, Able Bradley, and George Sutherland, each specializing in one type of trade. Blackwell hauled cordwood, Bradley handled grain, and Sutherland handled walnut and oak lumber, cut in squares to prevent rolling while aboard scows.


    Walnut from this vicinity was highly favored for furniture and a sizeable export market existed to England and Germany. This wood was shipped on the Welland River to Chippawa on the Niagara River to the Erie Canal, then to Albany, where it was loaded on ocean-going vessels.

    The Welland River was also the route of many large picnic parties. Scows with benches would leave various points on the river for Grand Island and return. One such party left port Robinson for Grand Island. Chairs, and benches were on deck and all available space was occupied with the majority of passengers being children. No railing or other protection was afforded the passengers and during the trip, a little girl fell overboard and drowned. This catastrophe put an end to picnic excursions on the river.


    During the year 1908, the last raft of white oak timber was assembled one-half mile north of O’Reilly’s Bridge. A tug, Nellie Bly, commanded by Captain Hand of Port Robinson towed this raft down the river to a lock that was located near the present Valencourt Iron Works. The raft was locked into the Welland Canal by the lockmaster, James Kilty, and from there it was towed to Port Robinson and locked back into the river by William Grisdale, lockmaster of that area. The raft continued on the river to Chippawa, where it was re-chained and made safe for the strong currents of the Niagara River by Edwin Hern, who was a veteran river man, having made many trips up the Niagara to Buffalo. The tug, Pilot, towed the raft up the river to Black Rock and thus ended an era for the Welland River


    The final curtain to through navigation was rung down in 1925 when a raft of piling was brought down from Wellandport to Welland to be used in the inverted siphon, which formed part of the aqueduct under the Welland Canal. The raft was towed by a gasoline-powered boat owned by W. Rounds of Welland and captained by Archie F.. Hern, who was at that time a contractor for Atlas Construction Company. After the raft was locked through, the lock was torn out. As the canal progressed, the Port Robinson locks were also closed, and thus came the end of through navigation on the Welland River.

    Readers’ comments on this article and further information on the history of navigation on the Welland River will be welcomed and all will be dealt with in the third of this series.

    The writer wishes to acknowledge the help of Archie Hern, who had the foresight to write out and deposit in the Welland Public Library, a resume of the highlights of the Welland River in the early days.

    Mr. Guest is the group leader in the Strip and Tube department of Atlas Steels Ltd. He has lived in this area since 1940.he has represented Crowland Township on the Welland Area Planning Board for the past four years and served on the Crowland Township Recreation Commission. Recently he was appointed chairman of a committee set up to correlate the activities of various bodies interested in the industrial and recreational development of the Welland River.


    To anyone driving along the winding banks of the Welland River today it might seem impossible to imagine it as once the scene of activity that, for the age would closely parallel the present situation on the Welland Canal, But this in fact was the case.

    The slow deep waters of the Welland River, originally and still often known as the Chippewa Creek, echoed to the shouts of bargemen and churned under the keels of hard-working tugs pulling heavily- laden rafts of lumber and other commodities between the two great lakes, Ontario and Erie, often stopping off at the thriving little ports and settlements growing along the river.

    It was not however only during the few years in which the river was an important part of the canal that the chug and whistle of boats were to be heard. All through the last century, up to the end of the first decade of this present century, it remained in use as a commercial waterway, of real vitality in sharp contrast to its tranquility of today, when the surface is broken occasionally by the odd small pleasure craft.


    Taking its source in the Blackheath Swamp in Haldimand County, the Chippawa Creek winds its way for about 60 miles to its mouth by the village of Chippawa on the Niagara River, cutting the Niagara Peninsula roughly in half. Its importance for transportation was recognized very shortly after the arrival of the first settlers in the area following the American Revolution. To these United Empire Loyalists and the government which had to protect Canada from an invasion by the U.S., the strategic possibilities of the river in the development of a waterway to connect the two great lakes was the most immediate concern. If such a link were developed there would no longer be any necessity to keep a fleet on each lake in time of war. The insuperable barrier of Niagara Falls had to be by-passed. Here, it seemed was the means at hand.

    In addition, the canal would greatly facilitate the movement of merchandise from Montreal and other points to the southern south-eastern portion of the province.

    Thus for both economic and military reasons interest focused on Chippawa Creek. The depth of the river further enhanced its importance, as it was navigable for some 30 miles from its mouth by boats drawing up to 12 feet of water. In these earliest days it was the only method of travel to the interior of the Niagara Peninsula.

    As early as 1799 petitions were being filed with the legislature for permission to build a canal; but t was not until 1829 that the first canal was finally completed.

    William Hamilton Merritt, a Shipton’s Corners merchant in whose honor the name of Merrittsville was given to this community before it took the name of Welland in 1858, was the man responsible for the first Welland Canal. The owner of a mill at the mouth of the 12-mile Creek near the site of the present Port Dalhousie, Merritt wanted to join the creek with the Chippawa Creek near Allanburg to ensure a constant supply of water for this mill.

    The original plan, formulated in 1814, had four years later expanded from the idea of a mere ditch to one of a full-scale canal to enable boats to cross the 25 miles separating the two lakes without having to make the exhausting portage from the foot of the Niagara Falls to the mouth of the Chippawa Creek.


    Although the plan was bitterly fought by the merchants of Niagara and Queenston, whose business largely

    depended on the portage from the mouth of the Chippawa down to the point where the Niagara River was navigable to Lake Ontario, it was completed in 1824. From Port Dalhousie, the ships were to go up the Twelve-mile creek, ascending the escarpment through a ravine, and finally enter the Welland river through a deep cut, almost two miles long, through the ridge which separated (and still does) the origin of the creek at Allanburg from the Welland river.

    To provide more direct access to Lake Erie a second canal was to be built from Port Maitland to the Welland River at a point near Pelham. Thus a boat proceeding from Lake Ontario, on reaching the river at a point eight miles from Chippawa would be able to turn east to Chippawa or Buffalo or west through to Port Maitland the Grand River, and Lake Erie. A total of 35 locks were to enable boats to negotiate the difference in heights on the journey

    This plan had to be abandoned and the whole history of the waterways in this area was altered by one simple and disastrous discovery-shifting sand bottom in the deep cut which was being dug between Allanburg and the river. With the banks falling in with each bite into the ridge there was no choice but to abandon the idea of having the Welland river as a feeder and summit level of the canal, as the cutting could not be lowered. To river level. Instead, a feeder canal had to be built from the Grand River, which was dammed at Dunnville, to the cutting near Allanburg where boats would have to be locked into the Welland River to proceed to Buffalo.


    The first trip between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie was made by two small schooners on Nov. 30, 1829. They had to cut their way through the ice to carry the venture to a successful conclusion, but they did it arriving at Buffalo about 12 hours after they had left Lake Ontario.

    However, this was still too circuitous and the feeder canal to the Grand River was too narrow for all but the smallest boats. So another route had to be found.

    It was in 1831 that Gravelly Bay, now known as Port Colborne, was chosen as the terminus for the canal in Lake Erie. And in 1833 the aqueduct was completed carrying the river under the canal.

    From this time on the river was no longer an integral part of the canal, insofar as the traffic between two lakes was concerned, although intercommunication between the two waterways continued for almost another 80 years. At Welland, the canal was connected with the upper river by the lock, while other locks at Port Robinson provided access from the canal to the river and vice versa.

    This however did not mean that Chippawa Creek, as it was still often called, dried up in economic importance. In fact, the boom years were still before it. Huge rafts of logs were regularly to be seen on its waters for the next three-quarters of a century plying back and forth between Wellandport, Port Robinson, and Chippawa. Cordwood, walnut timber and wheat were the principal products moved in this fashion, with the walnut being sent as far as Europe to make furniture in Germany.


    At first, the means of locomotion was by long poles, dug into the river at the front of the raft, and ten followed back as the bulky “ship” moved forward. Horses could not be used, as the river was considered too winding for toll paths. This method was, to say the least, exciting as the men wielding poles could never know when their next cold dip might come. Every once in a while, a pole would stick in the mud at the bottom at the rear of the raft, pulling the reluctant polesman into the water on top of it.

    It was not too long before human strength made way for steam and in the 1850’s the first tug the “Defiance”. Under the command of Capt. James Bampton made its appearance pulling the huge 110-foot-long rafts of logs down the river to Buffalo.

    This tug was soon followed by others, and in 1863 they were being built by local shipyards at Welland and Port Robinson.

    On reaching Chippawa however. The smaller tugs were discarded. As only one tug in the area known as the “Pilot” was powerful enough to pull the required load upstream to Buffalo against the raging current of the Niagara River. A monster of its kind the 300-foot-long Pilot pulled 12 cribs tied together in two lots of six to withstand the current and attached to the tug by two-inch ropes which were never used more than once.

    The cost for use of the tug in 1890s was $125 per hour. A good deal of money but there was no alternative for merchants who wished to send goods to Buffalo. On one occasion, another tug tried to compete with the “Pilot” but succeeded only in standing still against the current; and until rescued by its old rival, seemed in imminent danger of going to a violent end over the Falls.

    These were the days when the economic future not only of the river but also of the towns and villages on her banks seemed assured, Wharves and docks sprang up the whole lengths of the river, and around many of them settlements mushroomed. Port Robinson and Wellandport were the two largest, the latter a lumbering and grain distribution centre.

    Of the other ports, some are still settlements and others are only names. O’Reilly’s Bridge, Canadasville. Where the tug “Whip” blew up while docked at McDonald’s sawmill wharf in 1863, Brown’s Point, Port Fanny, Henderson’s Dock, and Beckett’s Bridge—all were once thriving centres of trade and industry. Welland of course did not exist then. But a settlement known as “The Aqueduct” sprang up around the juncture of the canal and the river where the first wooden structure was built between 1830 and 1833. This was a tiny start of what was to grow into the city of Welland.

    Extract from "The Queen and Us" by Leah Mclaren. Toronto Star, Sunday, September 11, 2022

    For Canada, the very question of whether it has suffered a loss in the death of Elizabeth II amounts to a question about who we are in the first place. The Americans, in contrast, have it much simpler. It is plain and obvious they care more about Harry and Meghan Markle — the people who, like them, fled the monarchy — than about the regent. A cynical person could say Markle was a perfect American plant in the royal family, a sparkling, free-thinking revolutionary who lit a bomb in the palace halls.

    It's different for Canadians. The Queen and her institutions were after all a symbolic line of defense against something you don't hear much about anymore as a persistent and enduring threat to our national identity: American cultural imperialism. Our consütutional fealty to the Queen was our antidote to this menace. She was a border of sorts, as much as a symbol.


    In the last decade or so it's worth noting the attitude toward the Queen and Crown has begun to shift, if only slightly. Canada's republicans are nonetheless a fairly quiet bunch. This isn't because we (I count myself among them) are not skeptical, it's because we understand that what she is — and was— is of immense importance to some, an anathema to others, and a matter of extreme indifference to many more. So all this arguing about symbols, perhaps it's just not worth the salt?

    Or perhaps as with the flag, it may take us a century to settle on an outcome. For now, the Queen remains a key part of the package that for some distinguishes us from the U.S. and provides continuity in times of change — and for others a symbol of what divides us from each other and proves our resistance to much-needed change.

    Our collective regard for the Queen is complicated — this is something, now that we have come of age, it's time to admit. Statues — even big, tall fancy ones — are merely representations. Unlike Lady Liberty to the South, our symbol was born mortal. Her passing is, of course, the end of an era but it is also a new chapter in our country's relatively short history. It's a moment not only to honour the wrongs we have done and the things that we aren't but also to acknowledge how far we've come and what we are. The Queen is dead, long live Canada. And yes, the King.

    Canadian Christian nationalism not Christian, it’s not Canadian, or patriotic either

    Jesus said you change the world by changing your heart, Christian nationalists say you change the world by shouting at and insulting people.

    There’s much about the rise of the new right in Canada that is deeply troubling and should be so to traditional conservatives as well as to liberals and progressives. This fairly recent phenomenon is a coalition of populists, racists, conspiracy theorists, anti-science zealots, and Christian nationalists.

    It’s the last group in particular that so concerns me because it’s a mingling of the irrational and religious with the hateful and extreme and that’s a recipe for disaster.

    I don’t think that Tory leadership front-runner Pierre Poilievre is one of them, or even that he’s especially religious, but I do believe he gives these people oxygen, has their support, and does absolutely nothing to dissuade them.

    We see their signs at protests and rallies and saw them in abundance during the Ottawa occupation. Misplaced, sometimes misspelled, Bible quotes, calls for the “restoration of the kingdom of God,” pictures of rosaries wrapped around offensive right-wing statements and prayer meetings held by people who proceed to wish death on Justin Trudeau and use obscene language about their opponents.

    Apart from the obvious horror of it all, it’s such an imploding idea. Christian nationalism is an inherent contradiction, an oxymoron, in that Jesus stood in direct opposition to nationalism — both that of his own people and as a wider concept. The essence of his teaching is that he came for all, irrespective of race or nation, and that one person could not have two masters. A Christian nationalist is merely a nationalist trying to disguise nastiness behind faith and religiosity.

    In that the Gospels preach love, tolerance, gentleness, forgiveness and equality, there is no connection between Christ and this latest aberration; or, if you like, this latest heresy. Jesus said you change the world by changing your heart, Christian nationalists say you change the world by shouting at and insulting people.

    But there’s more. Not only is Canadian Christian nationalism not Christian, it’s not Canadian, or patriotic either. The roots of this perverted idea are found in a specifically American notion of exceptionalism, the idea that the United States was and is chosen by God to be a light on a hill, distinct, special, and better. America, runs the ideology, has a God-given right and duty to shape and lead the world and anybody who opposes that isn’t truly American. Inevitably, that leads to a whole stew of repugnant beliefs. It may even lead to something resembling fascism.

    It also reveals a colossal misunderstanding and twisting of scripture, in that when God chose a people or a particular person it was often to show grace and courage during suffering, not to bathe in triumphal splendour. The idea has its foundations in the theology of the Puritans, who settled America in the 17th century and took with them a Calvinist interpretation of the Old Testament, with a boast of predestination and national blessing.

    That led to a variety of problems and while Canada has its own birth defects and ghosts with which to deal, this country was established on radically different definitions of religion, state, and purpose. So, it’s darkly ironic that Canadian arch conservatives should embrace a quintessentially American value, and throw it around as they wave the Canadian flag, often upside down of course.

    This sad aping of crude American politics and Trump adoration is eating away at popular discourse and even civilized democracy. It leads directly to the mob scenes we’ve witnessed, to journalists being abused and threatened and talk of violence and revolt. That the word “Christian” should be linked to it in any way at all disgusts me.

    The British writer G.K. Chesterton once said that no true patriot would ever dream of saying, “My country, right or wrong.” It would, he continued, be like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.” Canadian Christian nationalists seem to be drunk out of their minds but on something far worse than alcohol!

    Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and contributing columnist to the Star's Opinion section and iPolitics. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelcoren

    Isaac Asimov in the Toronto Star, December 31, 1983

    If we look into the world as it may be at the end of another generation, let’s say 2019 — that’s 35 years from now, the same number of years since 1949 when George Orwell’s 1984 was first published — three considerations must dominate our thoughts:

    1. Nuclear war. 2. Computerization. 3. Space utilization.

    If the United States and the Soviet Union flail away at each other at any time between now and 2019, there is absolutely no use to discussing what life will be like in that year. Too few of us, or of our children and grand· children, will be alive then for there to be any point in describing the precise condition of global misery at that time.

    Let us, therefore, assume there will be no nuclear war — not necessarily a safe assumption — and carry on from there.

    Computerization will undoubtedly continue onward inevitably. Computers have already made themselves essential to the governments of the industrial nations, and to world industry: and it is now beginning to make themselves comfortable in the home.

    An essential side product, the mobile computerized object, or robot, is already flooding into industry and will, in the course of the next generation, penetrate the home.

    There is bound to be resistance to the march of the computers, but barring a successful Luddite revolution, which does not seem in the cards, the march will continue.

    The growing complexity of society will make it impossible to do without them, except by courting chaos; and those parts of the world that fall behind in this respect will suffer so obviously as a result that their ruling bodies will clamour for computerization as they now clamour for weapons.

    The immediate effect of intensifying computerization will be, of course, to change utterly our work habits. This has happened before.

    Before the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of humanity was engaged in agriculture and indirectly allied professions. After industrialization, the shift from the farm to the factory was rapid and painful. With computerization, the new shift from the factory to something new will be still more rapid and in consequence, still more painful.

    It is not that computerization is going to mean fewer jobs as a whole, for technological advance has always, in the past, created more jobs than it has destroyed, and there is no reason to think that won’t be true now, too.

    However, the jobs created are not identical to the jobs that have been destroyed, and in similar cases, in the past, the change has never been so radical.

    Destroying our minds

    The jobs that will disappear will tend to be just those routine clerical and assembly-line jobs that are simple enough, repetitive enough, and stultifying enough to destroy the finely balanced minds of those human beings unfortunate enough to have been forced to spend years doing them in order to earn a living, and yet complicated enough to rest above the capacity of any machine that is neither a computer nor computerized.

    It is these that computers and robots for which they are perfectly designed will take over.

    The jobs that will appear will, inevitably, involve the design, manufacture, installation, maintenance, and repair of computers and robots, and an understanding of whole new industries that these “intelligent” machines will make possible.

    This means that a vast change in the nature of education must take place, and entire populations must be made “computer-literate” and must be taught to deal with a “high-tech” world.

    Again, this sort of thing has happened before. An industrialized workforce must, of necessity, be more educated than an agricultural one. Field hands can get along without knowing how to read and write. Factory employees cannot.

    Consequently, public education on a mass scale had to be introduced in industrializing nations in the course of the 19th century.

    The change, however, is much faster this time and society must work much faster; perhaps faster than they can. It means that the next generation will be one of difficult transition as untrained millions find themselves helpless to do the jobs that most need doing.

    By the year 2019, however, we should find that the transition is about over. Those who can be retrained and re-educated will have been: those who can’t be will have been put to work at something useful, or where ruling groups are less wise, will have been supported by some sort of grudging welfare arrangement.

    In any case, the generation of the transition will be dying out, and there will be a new generation growing up who will have been educated into the new world. It is quite likely that society, then, will have entered a phase that may be more or less permanently improved over the situation as it now exists for a variety of reasons.

    First: Population will be continuing to increase for some years after the present and this will make the pangs of transition even more painful. Governments will be unable to hide from themselves the fact that no problem can possibly be solved as long as those problems continue to be intensified by the addition of greater numbers more rapidly than they can be dealt with.

    Efforts to prevent this from happening by encouraging a lower birthrate will become steadily more strenuous and it is to be hoped that by 2019, the world as a whole will be striving toward a population plateau.

    Second: The consequences of human irresponsibility in terms of waste and pollution will become more apparent and unbearable time and again, and attempts to deal with this will become more strenuous. It is to be hoped that by 2019, advances in technology will place tools in our hands that will help accelerate the process whereby the deterioration of the environment will be reversed.

    Third: The world effort that must be invested in this and in generally easing the pains of the transition may, assuming the presence of a minimum level of sanity among the peoples of the world, again not a safe assumption, weaken in comparison the causes that have fed the time-honoured quarrels between and within nations over petty hatred and suspicions.

    In short, there will be increasing co-operation among nations and among groups within nations, not out of any sudden growth of idealism or decency but out of a cold-blooded realization that anything less than that will mean destruction for all.

    By 2019, then, it may well be that the nations will be getting along well enough to allow the planet to live under the faint semblance of a world government by cooperation, even though no one may admit its existence.

    Aside from these negative advances — the approaching defeat of overpopulation, pollution, and militarism — there will be positive advances, too.

    Education, which must be revolutionized in the new world, will be revolutionized by the very agency that requires the revolution — the computer.

    Schools will undoubtedly still exist, but a good schoolteacher can do no better than to inspire curiosity which an interested student can then satisfy at home at the console of his computer outlet.

    There will be an opportunity finally for every youngster, and indeed, every person, to learn what he or she wants to learn. in his or her own time, at his or her own speed, in his or her own way.

    Education will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.

    While computers and robots are doing the scut-work of society so that the world, in 2019, will seem more and more to be “running itself,” more and more human beings will find themselves living a life rich in leisure.

    This does not mean leisure to do nothing, but leisure to do something one wants to do; to be free to engage in scientific research, in literature and the arts, to pursue out-of-the-way interests and fascinating hobbies of all kinds.

    And if it seems impossibly optimistic to suppose that the world could be changing in this direction in a mere 35 years (only changing, of course. and not necessarily having achieved the change totally), then add the final item to the mix. Add my third phrase: space utilization.

    It is not likely that we will abandon space, having come this far. And if militarism fades, we will do more with it than make it another arena for war. Nor will we simply make trips through it.

    We will enter space to stay.

    With the shuttle rocket as the vehicle, we will build a space station and lay the foundation for making space a permanent home for increasing numbers of human beings.

    Mining the Moon

    By 2019, we will be back on the moon in force. There will be on it not Americans only, but an international force of some size; and not to collect moon rocks only, but to establish a mining station that will process moon soil and take it to places in space where it can be smelted into metals, ceramics. glass and concrete — construction materials for the large structures that will be put in orbit about the Earth.

    One such structure which very conceivably, might be completed by 2019 would be the prototype of a solar power station, outfitted to collect solar energy, convert it to microwaves and beam it to Earth.

    It would be the first of a girdle of such devices fitted about Earth’s equatorial plane. It would be the beginning of the time when a major part of Earth’s energy will come from the sun under conditions that will make it not the property of any one nation, but of the globe generally.

    Such structures will be, in themselves guarantees of world peace and continued cooperation among nations. The energy will be so necessary to all and so clearly deliverable only if the nations remain at peace and work together, that war would become simply unthinkable — by popular demand.

    In addition, observatories will be built in space to increase our knowledge of the universe immeasurably; as will laboratories, where experiments can be conducted that might be unsafe, or impossible, on Earth’s surface.

    Most important, in a practical sense, would be the construction of factories that could make use of the special properties of space — high and low temperatures, and hard radiation. Unlimited vacuum, zero gravity — to manufacture objects that could be difficult or impossible to manufacture on Earth, so that the world’s technology might be totally transformed.

    In fact, projects might even be on the planning boards in 2019 to shift industries into orbit in a wholesale manner. Space, you see, is far more voluminous than Earth’s surface is and it is, therefore, a far more useful repository for the waste that is inseparable from industry.

    Nor are there living things in space to suffer from the influx of waste. And the waste would not even remain in Earth’s vicinity but would be swept outward far beyond the asteroid belt by the solar wind.

    Earth will then be in a position to rid itself of the side-effects of industrialization, and yet without actually getting rid of its needed advantages. The factories will be gone, but not far, only a few thousand miles straight up.

    And humanity, not its structures only, will eventually be in space. By 2019, the first space settlement should be on the drawing boards; and may perhaps be under actual construction.

    It would be the first of many in which human beings could live by the tens of thousands, and in which they could build small societies of all kinds, lending humanity a further twist of variety.

    In fact, although the world of 2019 will be far changed from the present world of 1984, that will only be a barometer of far greater changes planned for years still to come.

    I Didn’t Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message

    Aug. 7, 2022, 6:00 a.m. ET

    By Ezra Klein - Opinion Columnist – The New York Times

    In 2020, I read a book I’d been ignoring for 10 years, Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” It was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 2011 and much loved among people who seemed to hate the internet.

    But in 2011, I loved the internet. I am of the generation old enough to remember a time before cyberspace but young enough to have grown up a digital native. And I adored my new land. The endless expanses of information, the people you met as avatars but cared for as humans, the sense that the mind’s reach could be limitless. My life, my career and my identity were digital constructs as much as they were physical ones. I pitied those who came before me, fettered by a physical world I was among the first to escape.

    A decade passed, and my certitude faded. Online life got faster, quicker, harsher, louder. “A little bit of everything all of the time,” as the comedian Bo Burnham put it. Smartphones brought the internet everywhere, colonizing moments I never imagined I’d fill. Many times I’ve walked into a public bathroom and everyone is simultaneously using a urinal and staring at a screen.

    The collective consequences were worse. The internet had been my escape from the schoolyard, but now it felt like it had turned the world into a schoolyard. Watching Donald Trump tweet his way to the presidency felt like some sinister apotheosis, like we’d rubbed the monkey’s paw and gotten our horrible wish. We didn’t want to be bored, and now we never would be.

    So when I came across Carr’s book in 2020, I was ready to read it. And what I found in it was a key — not just to a theory but to a whole map of 20th-century media theorists — Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong and Neil Postman, to name a few — who saw what was coming and tried to warn us.

    Carr’s argument began with an observation, one that felt familiar:

    The very way my brain worked seemed to be changing. It was then that I began worrying about my inability to pay attention to one thing for more than a couple of minutes. At first I’d figured that the problem was a symptom of middle-age mind rot. But my brain, I realized, wasn’t just drifting. It was hungry. It was demanding to be fed the way the Net fed it — and the more it was fed, the hungrier it became. Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check email, click links, do some Googling. I wanted to be connected.

    Hungry. That was the word that hooked me. That’s how my brain felt to me, too. Hungry. Needy. Itchy. Once it wanted information. But then it was distraction. And then, with social media, validation. A drumbeat of: You exist. You are seen.

    Carr’s investigation led him to the work of McLuhan, who lives on today in repeat viewings of “Annie Hall” and in his gnomic adage “The medium is the message.” That one’s never done much for me. It’s another McLuhan quote, from early in his 1964 classic, “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,” that lodged in my mind: “Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the ‘content’ of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind.”

    We’ve been told — and taught — that mediums are neutral and content is king. You can’t say anything about “television.” The question is whether you’re watching “The Kardashians” or “The Sopranos,” “Sesame Street” or “Paw Patrol.” To say you read “books” is to say nothing at all: Are you imbibing potboilers or histories of 18th-century Europe? Twitter is just the new town square; if your feed is a hellscape of infighting and outrage, it’s on you to curate your experience more tightly.

    There is truth to this, of course. But there is less truth to it than to the opposite. McLuhan’s view is that mediums matter more than content; it’s the common rules that govern all creation and consumption across a medium that change people and society. Oral culture teaches us to think one way, written culture another. Television turned everything into entertainment and social media taught us to think with the crowd.

    All this happens beneath the level of content. CNN and Fox News and MSNBC are ideologically different. But cable news in all its forms carries a sameness: the look of the anchors, the gloss of the graphics, the aesthetics of urgency and threat, the speed, the immediacy, the conflict, the conflict, the conflict. I’ve spent a lot of time on cable news, both as a host and a guest, and I can attest to the forces that hold this sameness in place: There is a grammar and logic to the medium, enforced both by internal culture and by ratings reports broken down by the quarter-hour. You can do better cable news or worse cable news, but you are always doing cable news.

    McLuhan’s arguments were continued by Neil Postman. Postman was more of a moralist than McLuhan, likelier to lament society’s direction than to coolly chart it. But he was seeing the maturation of trends that McLuhan had only sensed. As Sean Illing, a co-author of “The Paradox of Democracy,” told me, “McLuhan says: Don’t just look at what’s being expressed. Look at the ways it’s being expressed. And then Postman says: Don’t just look at the way things are being expressed, look at how the way things are expressed determines what’s actually expressible.” In other words: The medium blocks certain messages.

    In his prophetic 1985 book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Postman argued that the dystopia we must fear is not the totalitarianism of George Orwell’s “1984” but the narcotized somnolence of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.” Television teaches us to expect that anything and everything should be entertaining. But not everything should be entertainment, and the expectation that it will be is a vast social and even ideological change. He is at pains to distance himself from the critics who lament so-called junk television:

    I raise no objection to television’s junk. The best things on television are its junk, and no one and nothing is seriously threatened by it. Besides, we do not measure a culture by its output of undisguised trivialities but by what it claims as significant. Therein is our problem, for television is at its most trivial and, therefore, most dangerous when its aspirations are high, when it presents itself as a carrier of important cultural conversations. The irony here is that this is what intellectuals and critics are constantly urging television to do. The trouble with such people is that they do not take television seriously enough.

    That’s why Postman worried not about sitcoms but about news shows. Television, he writes, “serves us most ill when it co-opts serious modes of discourse — news, politics, science, education, commerce, religion — and turns them into entertainment packages. We would all be better off if television got worse, not better. ‘The A-Team’ and ‘Cheers’ are no threat to our public health. ‘60 Minutes,’ ‘Eyewitness News’ and ‘Sesame Street’ are.”

    All of this reads a bit like crankery. I grew up on “Sesame Street.” “60 Minutes” has dozens of Emmys for a reason. And yet Postman was planting a flag here: The border between entertainment and everything else was blurring, and entertainers would be the only ones able to fulfill our expectations for politicians. He spends considerable time thinking, for instance, about the people who were viable politicians in a textual era and who would be locked out of politics because they couldn’t command the screen.

    That began in Postman’s time, with Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the presidency, but it has reached full flower in our own, with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura and, of course, Donald Trump. As alarmed as Postman was, nothing in his book was nearly as outlandish as the world in which we live now. Reality TV is an almost too-on-the-nose example of entertainment absorbing all else: an entire genre where the seduction comes from the pretense of truth, where the word “reality” just signals another kind of fiction.

    It was in that genre that Donald Trump perfected the persona of a ruthlessly effective executive with a particular talent for hiring and firing. Without “The Apprentice,” would there be a Trump presidency? And this is not just an American phenomenon: Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, secured his job by playing an Everyman who becomes president of Ukraine on a sitcom. His political party carried the same name as his show: Servant of the People. And his talents proved to be exactly what Ukraine would need when Russia invaded: He has played the part of the reluctant wartime leader perfectly, and his performance rallied what might have been an indifferent West to Ukraine’s side.

    As the example of Zelensky suggests, the point is not that entertainers are bad leaders. It’s that we have come to see through television, to see as if we are televisions, and that has changed both us and the world. And so the line of Postman’s that holds me is his challenge to the critics who spent their time urging television to be better, rather than asking what television was: “The trouble with such people is that they do not take television seriously enough.”

    I have come to think the same of today’s technologists: Their problem is that they do not take technology seriously enough. They refuse to see how it is changing us or even how it is changing them.

    It’s been revealing watching Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of the browsers Mosaic and Netscape and of A16Z, a venture capital firm, incessantly tweet memes about how everyone online is obsessed with “the current thing.” Andreessen sits on the board of Meta and his firm is helping finance Elon Musk’s proposed acquisition of Twitter. He is central to the media platforms that algorithmically obsess the world with the same small collection of topics and have flattened the frictions of place and time that, in past eras, made the news in Omaha markedly different from the news in Ojai. He and his firm have been relentless in hyping crypto, which turns the “current thing” dynamics of the social web into frothing, speculative asset markets.

    Behind his argument is a view of human nature, and how it does, or doesn’t, interact with technology. In an interview with Tyler Cowen, Andreessen suggests that Twitter is like “a giant X-ray machine”:

    You’ve got this phenomenon, which is just fascinating, where you have all of these public figures, all of these people in positions of authority  —  in a lot of cases, great authority  —  the leading legal theorists of our time, leading politicians, all these businesspeople. And they tweet, and all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, that’s who you actually are.”

    But is it? I don’t even think this is true for Andreessen, who strikes me as very different off Twitter than on. There is no stable, unchanging self. People are capable of cruelty and altruism, farsightedness and myopia. We are who we are, in this moment, in this context, mediated in these ways. It is an abdication of responsibility for technologists to pretend that the technologies they make have no say in who we become. Where he sees an X-ray, I see a mold.

    Over the past decade, the narrative has turned against Silicon Valley. Puff pieces have become hit jobs, and the visionaries inventing our future have been recast as the Machiavellians undermining our present. My frustration with these narratives, both then and now, is that they focus on people and companies, not technologies. I suspect that is because American culture remains deeply uncomfortable with technological critique. There is something akin to an immune system against it: You get called a Luddite, an alarmist. “In this sense, all Americans are Marxists,” Postman wrote, “for we believe nothing if not that history is moving us toward some preordained paradise and that technology is the force behind that movement.”

    I think that’s true, but it coexists with an opposite truth: Americans are capitalists, and we believe nothing if not that if a choice is freely made, that grants it a presumption against critique. That is one reason it’s so hard to talk about how we are changed by the mediums we use. That conversation, on some level, demands value judgments. This was on my mind recently, when I heard Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist who’s been collecting data on how social media harms teenagers, say, bluntly, “People talk about how to tweak it — oh, let’s hide the like counters. Well, Instagram tried — but let me say this very clearly: There is no way, no tweak, no architectural change that will make it OK for teenage girls to post photos of themselves, while they’re going through puberty, for strangers or others to rate publicly.”

    What struck me about Haidt’s comment is how rarely I hear anything structured that way. He’s arguing three things. First, that the way Instagram works is changing how teenagers think. It is supercharging their need for approval of how they look and what they say and what they’re doing, making it both always available and never enough. Second, that it is the fault of the platform — that it is intrinsic to how Instagram is designed, not just to how it is used. And third, that it’s bad. That even if many people use it and enjoy it and make it through the gantlet just fine, it’s still bad. It is a mold we should not want our children to pass through.

    Or take Twitter. As a medium, Twitter nudges its users toward ideas that can survive without context, that can travel legibly in under 280 characters. It encourages a constant awareness of what everyone else is discussing. It makes the measure of conversational success not just how others react and respond but how much response there is. It, too, is a mold, and it has acted with particular force on some of our most powerful industries — media and politics and technology. These are industries I know well, and I do not think it has changed them, or the people in them (myself included), for the better.

    But what would? I’ve found myself going back to a wise, indescribable book that Jenny Odell, a visual artist, published in 2019. In “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy,” Odell suggests that any theory of media must first start with a theory of attention. “One thing I have learned about attention is that certain forms of it are contagious,” she writes.

    When you spend enough time with someone who pays close attention to something (if you were hanging out with me, it would be birds), you inevitably start to pay attention to some of the same things. I’ve also learned that patterns of attention — what we choose to notice and what we do not — are how we render reality for ourselves, and thus have a direct bearing on what we feel is possible at any given time. These aspects, taken together, suggest to me the revolutionary potential of taking back our attention.

    I think Odell frames both the question and the stakes correctly. Attention is contagious. What forms of it, as individuals and as a society, do we want to cultivate? What kinds of mediums would that cultivation require?

    This is anything but an argument against technology, were such a thing even coherent. It’s an argument for taking technology as seriously as it deserves to be taken, for recognizing, as McLuhan’s friend and colleague John M. Culkin put it, “we shape our tools, and thereafter, they shape us.”

    There is an optimism in that, a reminder of our own agency. And there are questions posed, ones we should spend much more time and energy trying to answer: How do we want to be shaped? Who do we want to become?

    Preparing for the death of U.S. Democracy

    Toronto Star, Sunday, July 24, 2022

    If democracy falters in the United States, where would that leave Canada? Can democracy thrive here if the U.S. becomes an autocracy, or falls apart into warring blue and red states?

    Riveting testimony in the Jan. 6 committee hearings has shredded complacent assumptions that the U.S. will always protect Canada from externally imposed authoritarianism. Russia and China project dictatorial power as much as ever, but have much less ability to influence events in Canada than an autocratic U.S. would, since our economies and cultures are so embedded.

    It is now beyond doubt that former U.S. President Donald Trump attempted a coup to stay in power. If he or one of his cronies wins in 2024, does anyone imagine he would ever give up power?

    Canada has had it easier than most countries. Geog•aphyhas prevented millions of refugees from demanding entry at the border. Miles of ocean on three coasts and the U..S. to the south insulated Canada from credible tlu•eats of invasion — Hitler, Imperial Japan, and Stalin were way over there.

    Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping run aggressive dictatorships today, but Canadians still feel protected by the U.S. All that could change if Trump wins again.

    Canada has always had a big protector. Many Canadians have died in overseas wars, far from our soil, but we have not faced a large-scale invasion since the War of 1812. First, we were protected by Britain, once the world's greatest power. When Nazi Germany conquered continental Europe in 1940, Canada switched allegiance to the U.S. in a defense-sharing agreement.

    Geographic isolation is good, so long as the U.S. is a friend. But if it becomes a full-on dictatorship and tries to bully Canada into submission, then the world's longest undefended border becomes a severe liability.

    There are strong indications Trump hopes to regain power in the 2024 election. He wouldn't need the most votes. Trump won the 2016 election because he won the Electoral College,even though his national ballot total fell almost three million votes behind Hillary Clinton's. Trump came very close to winning the Electoral College again in 2020, despite trailing Joe Biden by seven million votes. Trump's political resurrection is a real danger.

    Canada would lack defenses against an autocratic U.S. government because we have so integrated our economy, media and military forces into theirs. What can we do before 2025 to lessen Canada's vulnerability to coercion from Trump's second coming?

    Historically, Canadians overcame plenty of domestic anti-democratic advocates.

    We face some today. Current American impulses for autocracy have significant support here. The "Freedom Convoy" showed that Canada has an emboldened group of far-right activists, some of whom would likely be fifth columnists if Canada resists Trump or his surrogate.

    The threat is not a military invasion, like that of Russia in Ukraine. Our economic vulnerability and mindset are the problem. Remember how in the pandemic's early days, Trump's government banned the export of critical medical supplies, including masks? Or how Canadians lagged in getting their first jabs, because we no longer made vaccines like we did before Connaught Labs was privatized and sold to a foreign corporation? We need to again make many critical things in Canada like we used to

    Instead of standing alone against an autocratic U.S., Canada would have to seek out and forge stronger ties with democratic countries.

    In January, political science professor Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote a widely circulated article for the Globe and Mail on the likelihood of the U.S. succumbing to autocracy. He asked what Canada should do, and proposed the creation of a parliamentary committee to hold hearings on the prospect. That would be a good start, but we need far wider research and discussion about how to make Canada as independent as possible from the U.S. in all ways.

    Can democracy live on here if dictatorship fully wins the day south of the border? The biggest obstacle is what's in our heads. It is ingrained among Canadians that the United States is our greatest friend and will always champion democracy. That can no longer be taken for granted. Can we pivot to seeing the U.S. as our biggest potential threat?


    Toronto Star, Sunday July 24, 2022

    If democracy falters in the United States, where would that leave Canada? Can democracy thrive here if the U.S. becomes an autocracy, or falls apart into warring blue and red states?

    Riveting testimony in the Jan. 6 committee hearings has shredded complacent assumptions that the U.S. will always protect Canada from externally imposed authoritarianism. Russia and China project dictatorial power as much as ever, but have much less ability to influence events in Canada than an autocratic U.S. would, since our economies and cultures are so embedded.

    It is now beyond doubt that former U.S. President Donald Trump attempted a coup to stay in power. If he or one of his cronies wins in 2024, does anyone imagine he would ever give up power?

    Canada has had it easier than most countries. Geog•aphyhas prevented millions of refugees from demanding entry at the border. Miles of ocean on three coasts and the U..S. to the south insulated Canada from credible tlu•eats of invasion — Hitler, Imperial Japan, and Stalin were way over there.

    Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping run aggressive dictatorships today, but Canadians still feel protected by the U.S. All that could change if Trump wins again.

    Canada has always had a big protector. Many Canadians have died in overseas wars, far from our soil, but we have not faced a large-scale invasion since the War of 1812. First, we were protected by Britain, once the world's greatest power. When Nazi Germany conquered continental Europe in 1940, Canada switched allegiance to the U.S. in a defense-sharing agreement.

    Geographic isolation is good, so long as the U.S. is a friend. But if it becomes a full-on dictatorship and tries to bully Canada into submission, then the world's longest undefended border becomes a severe liability.

    There are strong indications Trump hopes to regain power in the 2024 election. He wouldn't need the most votes. Trump won the 2016 election because he won the Electoral College,even though his national ballot total fell almost three million votes behind Hillary Clinton's. Trump came very close to winning the Electoral College again in 2020, despite trailing Joe Biden by seven million votes. Trump's political resurrection is a real danger.

    Canada would lack defenses against an autocratic U.S. government because we have so integrated our economy, media and military forces into theirs. What can we do before 2025 to lessen Canada's vulnerability to coercion from Trump's second coming?

    Historically, Canadians overcame plenty of domestic anti-democratic advocates.

    We face some today. Current American impulses for autocracy have significant support here. The "Freedom Convoy" showed that Canada has an emboldened group of far-right activists, some of whom would likely be fifth columnists if Canada resists Trump or his surrogate.

    The threat is not a military invasion, like that of Russia in Ukraine. Our economic vulnerability and mindset are the problem. Remember how in the pandemic's early days, Trump's government banned the export of critical medical supplies, including masks? Or how Canadians lagged in getting their first jabs, because we no longer made vaccines like we did before Connaught Labs was privatized and sold to a foreign corporation? We need to again make many critical things in Canada like we used to

    Instead of standing alone against an autocratic U.S., Canada would have to seek out and forge stronger ties with democratic countries.

    In January, political science professor Thomas Homer-Dixon wrote a widely circulated article for the Globe and Mail on the likelihood of the U.S. succumbing to autocracy. He asked what Canada should do, and proposed the creation of a parliamentary committee to hold hearings on the prospect. That would be a good start, but we need far wider research and discussion about how to make Canada as independent as possible from the U.S. in all ways.

    Can democracy live on here if dictatorship fully wins the day south of the border? The biggest obstacle is what's in our heads. It is ingrained among Canadians that the United States is our greatest friend and will always champion democracy. That can no longer be taken for granted. Can we pivot to seeing the U.S. as our biggest potential threat?


    Thomas Homer-Dixon is executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University. His latest book is Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril. This article appeared in the Globe and Mail January 2nd, 2022

    By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.

    We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine. In 2014, the suggestion that Donald Trump would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd. But today we live in a world where the absurd regularly becomes real and the horrible commonplace.

    Leading American academics are now actively addressing the prospect of a fatal weakening of U.S. democracy.

    This past November, more than 150 professors of politics, government, political economy, and international relations appealed to Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which would protect the integrity of US elections but is now stalled in the Senate. This is a moment of “great peril and risk,” they wrote. “Time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching.”

    I’m a scholar of violent conflict. For more than 40 years, I’ve studied and published on the causes of war, social breakdown, revolution, ethnic violence, and genocide, and for nearly two decades I led a centre on peace and conflict studies at the University of Toronto.

    Today, as I watch the unfolding crisis in the United States, I see a political and social landscape flashing with warning signals.

    I’m not surprised by what’s happening there – not at all. During my graduate work in the United States in the 1980s, I sometimes listened to Rush Limbaugh, the right-wing radio talk show host, and later television personality. I remarked to friends at the time that, with each broadcast, it was as if Mr. Limbaugh were wedging the sharp end of a chisel into a faint crack in the moral authority of U.S. political institutions, and then slamming the other end of that chisel with a hammer.

    In the decades since, week after week, year after year, Mr. Limbaugh and his fellow travelers have hammered away – their blows’ power lately amplified through social media and outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax. The cracks have steadily widened, ramified, connected, and propagated deeply into America’s once-esteemed institutions, profoundly compromising their structural integrity. The country is becoming increasingly ungovernable, and some experts believe it could descend into civil war.

    How should Canada prepare?

    In 2020, president Donald Trump awarded Mr. Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The act signaled that Mr. Limbaugh’s brand of bullying, populist white ethnocentrism – a rancid blend of aggrieved attacks on liberal elites, racist dog-whistling, bragging about American exceptionalism and appeals to authoritarian leadership – had become an integral part of mainstream political ideology in the U.S.

    But one can’t blame only Mr. Limbaugh, who died in early 2021, and his ilk for America’s dysfunction. These people and their actions are as much symptoms of that dysfunction as its root causes, and those causes are many. Some can be traced to the country’s founding – to an abiding distrust in government baked into the country’s political culture during the Revolution, to slavery, to the political compromise of the Electoral College that slavery spawned, to the overrepresentation of rural voting power in the Senate, and to the failure of Reconstruction after the Civil War. But successful polities around the world have overcome flaws just as fundamental.

    What seems to have pushed the United States to the brink of losing its democracy today is a multiplication effect between its underlying flaws and recent shifts in society’s “material” characteristics. These shifts include stagnating middle-class incomes, chronic economic insecurity, and rising inequality as the country’s economy – transformed by technological change and globalization – has transitioned from muscle power, heavy industry, and manufacturing as the main sources of its wealth to idea power, information technology, symbolic production and finance. As returns to labour have stagnated and returns to capital have soared, much of the U.S. population has fallen behind. Inflation-adjusted wages for the median male worker in the fourth quarter of 2019 (prior to the infusion of economic support owing to the COVID-19 pandemic) were lower than in 1979; meanwhile, between 1978 and 2016, CEO incomes in the biggest companies rose from 30 times that of the average worker to 271 times. Economic insecurity is widespread in broad swaths of the country’s interior, while growth is increasingly concentrated in a dozen or so metropolitan centres.

    Two other material factors are key. The first is demographic: as immigration, aging, intermarriage and a decline in church-going have reduced the percentage of non-Hispanic white Christians in America, right-wing ideologues have inflamed fears that traditional U.S. culture is being erased and whites are being “replaced.” The second is pervasive elite selfishness: The wealthy and powerful in America are broadly unwilling to pay taxes, invest in public services, or create the avenues for vertical mobility that would lessen their country’s economic, educational, racial, and geographic gaps. The more an under-resourced government can’t solve everyday problems, the more people give up on it, and the more they turn to their own resources and their narrow identity groups for safety.

    America’s economic, racial and social gaps have helped cause ideological polarization between the political right and left, and the worsening polarization has paralyzed the government while aggravating the gaps. The political right and left are isolated from, and increasingly despise, each other. Both believe the stakes are existential – that the other is out to destroy the country they love. The moderate political centre is fast vanishing.

    And, oh yes, the population is armed to the teeth, with somewhere around 400 million firearms in the hands of civilians.

    Some diagnoses of America’s crisis that highlight “toxic polarization” implies the two sides are equally responsible for that crisis. They aren’t. While both wings of U.S. politics have fanned polarization’s flames, the blame lies disproportionately on the political right.

    According to Harvard’s renowned sociologist and political scientist Theda Skocpol, in the early 2000s fringe elements of the Republican party used disciplined tactics and enormous streams of money (from billionaires like the Koch brothers) to turn extreme laissez-faire ideology into orthodox Republican dogma. Then, in 2008, Barack Obama’s election as president increased anxieties about immigration and cultural change among older, often economically insecure members of the white middle-class, who then coalesced into the populist Tea Party movement. Under Mr. Trump, the two forces were joined. The GOP became, Dr. Skocpol, writes, a radicalized “marriage of convenience between anti-government free-market plutocrats and racially anxious Ethno-nationalist activists and voters.”

    Now, adopting Mr. Limbaugh’s tried-and-true methods, demagogues on the right are pushing the radicalization process further than ever before. By weaponizing people’s fear and anger, Mr. Trump and a host of acolytes and wannabees such as Fox’s Tucker Carlson and Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene have captured the storied GOP and transformed it into a near-fascist personality cult that’s a perfect instrument for wrecking democracy.

    And it’s not inaccurate to use the F word. As conservative commentator David Frum argues, Trumpism increasingly resembles European fascism in its contempt for the rule of law and glorification of violence. Evidence is as close as the latest right-wing Twitter meme: widely circulated holiday photos show Republican politicians and their family members, including young children, sitting in front of their Christmas trees, all smiling gleefully while cradling pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles.

    Those guns are more than symbols. The Trump cult presents itself as the only truly patriotic party able to defend U.S. values and history against traitorous Democrats beholden to cosmopolitan elites and minorities who neither understand nor support “true” American values. The Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. capitol must be understood in these terms. The people involved didn’t think they were attacking U.S. democracy – although they unquestionably were. Instead, they believed their “patriotic” actions were needed to save it.

    Democracy is an institution, but underpinning that institution is a vital set of beliefs and values. If a substantial enough fraction of a population no longer holds those beliefs and values, then democracy can’t survive. Probably the most important is recognition of the equality of the polity’s citizens in deciding its future; a close runner-up is a willingness to concede power to one’s political opponents, should those equal citizens decide that’s what they want. At the heart of the ideological narrative of U.S. right-wing demagogues, from Mr. Trump on down, is the implication that large segments of the country’s population – mainly the non-white, non-Christian, and educated urban ones – aren’t really equal citizens. They aren’t quite full Americans or even real Americans.

    This is why Mr. Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him – a falsehood that nearly 70% of Republicans now accept as true – is such potent anti-democratic poison. If the other side is willing to steal an election, then they don’t play by the rules. They’ve placed themselves outside the American moral community, which means they don’t deserve to be treated as equals. There’s certainly no reason to concede power to them, ever.

    Willingness to publicly endorse the Big Lie has become a litmus test of Republican loyalty to Mr. Trump. This isn’t just an ideological move to promote Republican solidarity against Democrats. It puts its adherents one step away from the psychological dynamic of extreme dehumanization that has led to some of the worst violence in human history. And it has refashioned – into a moral crusade against evil – Republican efforts to gerrymander Congressional districts into pretzel-like shapes, restrict voting rights, and take control of state-level electoral apparatuses.

    When the situation is framed in such a Manichean way, righteous ends justify any means. One of the two American parties is now devoted to victory at any cost.

    Many of those with guns are waiting for a signal to use them. Polls show that between 20 and 30 million American adults believe both that the 2020 election was stolen from Mr. Trump and that violence is justified to return him to the presidency.

    In the weeks before November 2016, U.S. election, I talked to several experts to gauge the danger of a Trump presidency. I recently consulted them again. While in 2016 they were alarmed, this last month most were utterly dismayed. All told me the U.S. political situation has deteriorated sharply since last year’s attack on Capitol Hill.

    Jack Goldstone, a political sociologist at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., and a leading authority on the causes of state breakdown and revolution told me that since 2016 we’ve learned that early optimism about the resilience of U.S. democracy was based on two false assumptions: “First, that American institutions would be strong enough to easily withstand efforts to subvert them; and second, that the vast majority of people will act rationally and be drawn to the political centre, so that it’s impossible for extremist groups to take over.”

    But especially after the 2020 election, Dr. Goldstone said, we’ve seen that core institutions – from the Justice Department to county election boards – are susceptible to pressure. They’ve barely held firm. “We’ve also learned that the reasonable majority can be frightened and silenced if caught between extremes, while many others can be captured by mass delusions.” And to his surprise “moderate GOP leaders have either been forced out of the party or acquiesced to a party leadership that embraces lies and anti-democratic actions.”

    Mr. Trump’s electoral loss has energized the Republican base and further radicalized young party members. Even without their concerted efforts to torque the machinery of the electoral system, Republicans will probably take control of both the House of Representatives and Senate this coming November, because the incumbent party generally fares poorly in mid-term elections. Republicans could easily score a massive victory, with voters ground down by the pandemic, angry about inflation, and tired of President Joe Biden bumbling from one crisis to another. Voters who identify as Independents are already migrating toward Republican candidates.

    Once Republicans control Congress, Democrats will lose control of the national political agenda, giving Mr. Trump a clear shot at recapturing the presidency in 2024. And once in office, he will have only two objectives: vindication and vengeance.

    A U.S. civil-military expert and senior federal appointee I consulted noted that a re-elected president Trump could be totally unconstrained, nationally and internationally.

    A crucial factor determining how much constraint he faces will be the response of the U.S. military, a bulwark institution ardently committed to defending the Constitution. During the first Trump administration, members of the military repeatedly resisted the president’s authoritarian impulses and tried to anticipate and corral his rogue behaviour – most notably when Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley, shortly after the Capitol insurrection, ordered military officials to include him in any decision process involving the use of military force.

    But in a second Trump administration, this expert suggested, the bulwark could crumble. By replacing the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs with lackeys and sycophants, he could so infiltrate the Department with his people that he’ll be able to bend it to his will.

    After four years of Mr. Trump’s bedlam, the U.S. under Mr. Biden has been comparatively calm. Politics in the U.S. seems to have stabilized.

    But absolutely nothing has stabilized in America. The country’s problems are systemic and deeply entrenched – and events could soon spiral out of control.

    The experts I consulted described a range of possible outcomes if Mr. Trump returns to power, none benign. They cited particular countries and political regimes to illustrate where he might take the U.S.: Viktor Orban’s Hungary, with its coercive legal apparatus of “illiberal democracy”; Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, with its chronic social distemper and administrative dysfunction; or Vladimir Putin’s Russia, with its harsh one-man hyper-nationalist autocracy. All agreed that under a second Trump administration, liberalism will be marginalized and right-wing Christian groups super-empowered, while violence by vigilante, paramilitary groups will rise sharply.

    Looking further down the road, some think that authority in American federalism is so disjointed and diffuse that Mr. Trump, especially given his manifest managerial incompetence, will never be able to achieve full authoritarian control. Others believe the pendulum will ultimately swing back to the Democrats when Republican mistakes accumulate, or that the radicalized Republican base – so fanatically loyal to Mr. Trump – can’t grow larger and will dissipate when its hero leaves the stage.

    One can hope for these outcomes because there are far worse scenarios. Something resembling civil war is one. Many pathways could take the country there – some described in Stephen Marche’s new book The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future. The most plausible start with a disputed 2024 presidential election. Perhaps Democrats squeak out a victory, and Republican states refuse to recognize the result. Or conversely, perhaps Republicans win, but only because Republican state legislatures override voting results; then Democratic protestors attack those legislatures. In either circumstance, much will depend on whether the country’s military splits along partisan lines.

    But there’s another political regime, a historical one, that may portend an even more dire future for the U.S.: the Weimar Republic. The situation in Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s was of course sui generis; in particular, the country had experienced staggering traumas – defeat in war, internal revolution and hyperinflation – while the country’s commitment to liberal democracy was weakly rooted in its culture. But as I read a history of the doomed republic this past summer, I tallied no fewer than five unnerving parallels with the current U.S. situation.

    First, in both cases, a charismatic leader was able to unify right-wing extremists around a political program to seize the state. Second, a bald falsehood about how enemies inside the polity had betrayed the country – for the Nazis, the “stab in the back,” and for Trumpists, the Big Lie – was a vital psychological tool for radicalizing and mobilizing followers. Third, conventional conservatives believed they could control and channel the charismatic leader and rising extremism but were ultimately routed by the forces they helped unleash. Fourth, ideological opponents of this rising extremism squabbled among themselves; they didn’t take the threat seriously enough, even though it was growing in plain sight; and they focused on marginal issues that were too often red meat for the extremists. (Today, think toppling statues.)

    To my mind, though, the fifth parallel is the most disconcerting: the propagation of a “hardline security doctrine.” Here I’ve been influenced by the research of Jonathan Leader Maynard, a young English scholar who is emerging as one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers on the links between ideology, extremism and violence. In a forthcoming book, Ideology and Mass Killing, Dr. Leader Maynard argues that extremist right-wing ideologies generally don’t arise from explicit efforts to forge an authoritarian society but from the radicalization of a society’s existing understandings of how it can stay safe and secure in the face of alleged threats.

    Hardline conceptions of security are “radicalized versions of familiar claims about the threat, self-defense, punishment, war, and duty,” he writes. They are the foundation on which regimes organize campaigns of violent persecution and terror. People he calls “hardliners” believe the world contains many “dangerous enemies that frequently operate in and through purported ‘civilian’ groups.” Hardliners increasingly dominate Trumpist circles now.

    Dr. Leader Maynard then makes a complementary argument: Once a hardline doctrine is widely accepted within a political movement, it becomes an “infrastructure” of ideas and incentives that can pressure even those who don’t really accept the doctrine into following its dictates. Fear of “true believers” shifts the behaviour of the movement’s moderates toward extremism. Sure enough, the experts I recently consulted all spoke about how fear of crossing Mr. Trump’s base – including fear for their families’ physical safety – was forcing otherwise sensible Republicans to fall into line.

    The rapid propagation of hardline security doctrines through a society, Dr. Leader Maynard says, typically occurs in times of political and economic crisis. Even in the Weimar Republic, the vote for the National Socialists was closely correlated with the unemployment rate. The Nazis were in trouble (with their share of the vote falling and the party beset by internal disputes) as late as 1927 before the German economy started to contract. Then, of course, the Depression hit. The United States today is in the midst of a crisis – caused by the pandemic, obviously – but it could experience far worse before long: perhaps a war with Russia, Iran, or China, or a financial crisis when economic bubbles are caused by excessive liquidity burst.

    Beyond a certain threshold, other new research shows, political extremism feeds on itself, pushing polarization toward an irreversible tipping point. This suggests a sixth potential parallel with Weimar: democratic collapse followed by the consolidation of a dictatorship. Mr. Trump may be just a warm-up act – someone ideal to bring about the first stage, but not the second. Returning to office, he’ll be the wrecking ball that demolishes democracy, but the process will produce political and social shambles. Still, through targeted harassment and dismissal, he’ll be able to thin the ranks of his movement’s opponents within the state – the bureaucrats, officials, and technocrats who oversee the non-partisan functioning of core institutions and abide by the rule of law. Then the stage will be set for a more managerially competent ruler, after Mr. Trump, to bring order to the chaos he’s created.

    A terrible storm is coming from the south, and Canada is woefully unprepared. Over the past year, we’ve turned our attention inward, distracted by the challenges of COVID-19, reconciliation, and the accelerating effects of climate change. But now we must focus on the urgent problem of what to do about the likely unraveling of democracy in the United States.

    We need to start by fully recognizing the magnitude of the danger. If Mr. Trump is re-elected, even under the more-optimistic scenarios the economic and political risks to our country will be innumerable. Driven by aggressive, reactive nationalism, Mr. Trump “could isolate Canada continentally,” as one of my interlocutors put it euphemistically.

    Under the less-optimistic scenarios, the risks to our country in their cumulative effect could easily be existential, far greater than any in our federation’s history. What happens, for instance, if high-profile political refugees fleeing persecution arrive in our country, and the U.S. regime demands them back. Do we comply?

    In this context, it’s worth noting the words of Dmitry Muratov, the courageous Russian journalist who remains one of the few independent voices standing up to Mr. Putin and who just received the Nobel Prize for Peace. At a news conference after the awards ceremony in Oslo, as Russian troops and armour were massing on Ukraine’s borders, Mr. Muratov spoke of the iron link between authoritarianism and war. “Disbelief in democracy means that the countries that have abandoned it will get a dictator,” he said. “And where there is a dictatorship, there is a war. If we refuse democracy, we agree to war.”

    Canada is not powerless in the face of these forces, at least not yet. Among other things, over three-quarters of a million Canadian emigrants live in the United States – many highly placed and influential – and together they’re a mass of people who could appreciably tilt the outcome of coming elections and the broader dynamics of the country’s political process.

    But here’s my key recommendation: The Prime Minister should immediately convene a standing, non-partisan Parliamentary committee with representatives from the five sitting parties, all with full security clearances. It should be understood that this committee will continue to operate in the coming years, regardless of changes in the federal government. It should receive regular intelligence analyses and briefings by Canadian experts on political and social developments in the United States and their implications for democratic failure there. And it should be charged with providing the federal government with continuing, specific guidance as to how to prepare for and respond to that failure, should it occur.

    If hope is to be a motivator and not a crutch, it needs to be honest and not false. It needs to be anchored in a realistic, evidence-based understanding of the dangers we face and a clear vision of how to get past those dangers to a good future. Canada is itself flawed, but it’s still one of the most remarkably just and prosperous societies in human history. It must rise to this challenge.

    Another Step Toward Climate Apocalypse
    July 4, 2022 By Paul Krugman Opinion Columnist The New York Times

    We’re having a heat wave, a tropical heat wave. Also a temperate heat wave and an Arctic heat wave, with temperatures reaching the high 80s in northern Norway. The megadrought in the Western United States has reduced Lake Mead to a small fraction of its former size, and it now threatens to become a “dead pool” that can no longer supply water to major cities. Climate change is already doing immense damage, and it’s probably only a matter of time before we experience huge catastrophes that take thousands of lives.

    And the Republican majority on the Supreme Court just voted to limit the Biden administration’s ability to do anything about it.
    It says something about the state of U.S. politics that a number of environmental experts I follow were actually relieved by the ruling, which was less sweeping than they feared and still left the administration with some possible paths for climate action. I guess, given where we are, objectively bad decisions must be graded on a curve.

    And for what it’s worth, I have a suspicion that at least some of the Republican justices understood the enormity of what they were doing and tried to do as little as possible while maintaining their party fealty.

    For party fealty is, of course, what this is all about. Anyone who believes that the recent series of blockbuster court rulings reflects any consistent legal theory is being willfully naïve: Clearly, the way this court interprets the law is almost entirely determined by what serves Republican interests. If states want to ban abortion, well, that’s their prerogative. If New York has a law restricting the concealed carrying of firearms, well, that’s unconstitutional.

    And partisanship is the central problem of climate policy. Yes, Joe Manchin stands in the way of advancing the Biden climate agenda. But if there were even a handful of Republican senators willing to support climate action, Manchin wouldn’t matter, and neither would the Supreme Court: Simple legislation could establish regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions and provide subsidies and maybe even impose taxes to encourage the transition to a green economy. So ultimately our paralysis in the face of what looks more and more like a looming apocalypse comes down to the G.O.P.’s adamant opposition to any kind of action.

    The question is, how did letting the planet burn become a key G.O.P. tenet?

    It wasn’t always thus. The Environmental Protection Agency, whose scope for action the court just moved to limit, was created by none other than Richard Nixon. As late as 2008 John McCain, the Republican nominee for president, ran on a promise to impose a cap-and-trade system to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

    Republican positioning on the environment is also completely unlike that of mainstream conservative parties in other Western nations. One study — from a few years back, but I don’t think the fundamentals have changed — found that most conservative parties do support climate action and that the Republican Party “is an anomaly in denying anthropogenic climate change.” And yes, the G.O.P. is still into climate denial; it may sometimes admit that climate change is real while insisting that nothing can be done about it, but it reverts to denial every time there’s a cold snap.

    So what explains the Republican climate difference? One natural answer is “follow the money”: In the 2020 election cycle the oil and gas industry gave 84 percent of its political contributions to Republicans; for coal mining, the number was 96 percent.
    But I suspect that money is only part of the story; in fact, to some extent the causation may run the other way, with the fossil fuel sector backing Republicans because they’re anti-environment rather than the other way around.

    My skepticism about a simple follow-the-money story comes from a couple of observations. One is that Republicans have staked out anti-science positions on other issues, like Covid vaccination, where the monetary considerations are far less obvious: As far as I know, the coronavirus isn’t a major source of campaign contributions.

    Also, while the Republican position on climate is an outlier compared with “normal” conservative parties, it’s actually typical for right-wing populist parties. (Side note: I hate the use of the word “populist” here, because Republicans have shown no inclination toward policies that would actually help workers. But I guess we’re stuck with it.)

    In other words, the politics of climate policy look a lot like the politics of authoritarian government and minority rights: The Republican Party looks more like Hungary’s Fidesz or Poland’s Law and Justice than like the center-right parties other countries call conservative.

    Why, exactly, are authoritarian right-wing parties anti-environment? That’s a discussion for another day. What’s important right now is that the United States is the only major nation in which an authoritarian right-wing party — which lost the popular vote in seven of the past eight presidential elections yet controls the Supreme Court — has the ability to block actions that might prevent climate catastrophe

    Irving Oil invests in cleaner hydrogen

    Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

    Irving Oil is expanding hydrogen capacity at its Saint John, N.B, refinery in a bid to lower carbon emissions and offer clean energy to customers.

    The family-owned company said Tuesday it has a deal with New York-based Plug Power Inc. to buy a five-megawatt hydrogen electrolyzer which will create two tonnes of hydrogen a day — equivalent to fuelling 60 buses with hydrogen — using electricity from the local grid.

    Hydrogen is an important part of the refining process as it's used to lower the sulfur content of petroleum products like diesel fuel, but most refineries produce hydrogen using natural gas, which creates carbon dioxide emissions.

    "Investing in a hydrogen electrolyzer allows us to produce hydrogen in a very different way," Irving director of energy transition Andy Carson said in an interview.

    "Instead of using natural gas, we're actually using water molecules and electricity through the electrolysis process to produce … a clean hydrogen."

    Irving plans to continue to work with others in the province to decarbonize the grid and ensure the electricity being used to power its hydrogen electrolyzer is as clean as possible, he said.

    New Brunswick Power's electrical system includes 14 generating stations powered by hydro, coal, oil, nuclear, and diesel. The utility has committed to increasing its renewable energy sources.

    Irving said it will be the first oil refinery in Canada to invest in electrolyzer technology.

    The company said its goal is to offer hydrogen fuelling infrastructure in Atlantic Canada.

    "This kind of investment allows us to not just move to a cleaner form of hydrogen in the refinery. It also allows us to store and make hydrogen available to the marketplace," Carson said.

    The hydrogen technology will help living "unlock pent up demand for hydrogen as an energy transition fuel for logistics organizations," he said.

    This is my Father's World
    Maltbie Davenport Babcock, 1901

    This is my Father's world,
    And to my listening ears
    All nature sings, and round me rings
    The music of the spheres.
    This is my Father's world:
    I rest me in the thought
    Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas--
    His hand the wonders wrought.

    This is my Father's world:
    The birds their carols raise,
    The morning light, the lily white,
    Declare their Maker's praise.
    This is my Father's world:
    He shines in all that's fair;
    In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass,
    He speaks to me everywhere.

    This is my Father's world:
    O let me ne'er forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
    God is the Ruler yet.
    This is my Father's world:
    Why should my heart be sad?
    The Lord is King: let the heavens ring!
    God reigns; let earth be glad!

    The story behind the song

    When Maltbie Davenport Babcock resided in Lockport, he would take strolls along the Niagara Escarpment to savor the overlook's scenic view of upstate New York surroundings and Lake Ontario, telling his wife he was "going out to see the Father's world". Soon after his death in 1901, she released a collection of Babcock's poems entitled Thoughts for Every-Day Living which contained the poem "My Father's World."

    The original poem was composed in 16 four-line stanzas, each beginning with “This is my Father’s world.” One of Babcock’s friends, Franklin Sheppard (1852-1930) adopted an English folk song inserting portions of Babcock’s text into three, eight-line stanzas. The hymn in this form first appeared in the composer’s hymnal Alleluia, a Presbyterian Sunday school book published in 1915.

    Babcock was known both as a skilled amateur musician, playing the organ, piano, and violin, and known as a university sportsman with accolades in swimming and baseball.

    There are a lot of hard and thankless gigs these days.

    But one of the hardest must be "intern for Adam Kinzinger." The congressman from Illinois, and air force vet who served in Iraq, is now flying a different combat mission: truth bombing. As a key member of the Jan. 6 Select Committee — the next must-see hearing is Tuesday — Kinzinger sacrificed his political ambitions to be on the right side of history.

    The man deserves a Nobel Prize for bravery and honesty.

    It has come at a tremendous cost. For the mortal sin of condemning Donald Trump's attempted coup, Kinzinger is persona non grata to the frothing MAGA cult He's seen as a traitor, a liberal secret agent, a disgrace, a treasonous scumbag who deserves to rot in hell for all eternity.

    Some of his own relatives have said as much. On Tuesday, Kinzinger released a truly bone-chilling comp of voice mails that have turned his answering system into a rated R rage machine. He prefaced this with an important reminder to the uninitiated: "All voice mails and phone calls are received by my interns, high to learn about the legislative process."

    Sigh. What they are learning about is death threats.

    On any given day, an enraged MAGA cultist vows to assassinate Kinzinger and his family. The callers say they know where he lives. They make disparaging remarks about his mother, his wife, and his infant son. They pray he dies a painful death. They promise to "get" him and make that so.

    Listening to these messages is a crash course in crazy: "You backstabbing son of a bitch. You go against Trump, y'all know y'all motherf---ers" are sitting up there lying. Like a damn dog."

    Hillary Clinton deserves an apology. She was rebuked in 2016 for referring to some Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables."

    As it turns out, she was being euphemistic.

    Now, obviously, not all Trump supporters are lunatics who inhabit the Upside Down. The reasonable ones signed on for tax cuts, tougher immigration, and an anti-globalist agenda. Fine.

    Make America Great Again was always code for isolationism.

    But the MAGA cult is so far detached from reality that policy is now the least of it. It's why Kinzinger and another sane Republican, Liz Cheney, keep getting death threats for their outrageous fidelity to the Constitution and not wanting to live in a banana republic
    ruled by a conman and reality TV host.

    How dare Liz and Adam uphold the rule of law!

    How dare they criticize Dear Leader after he tried to steal an election!.

    Kinzinger's release of nasty voice mails was a stroke of genius in advance of Tuesday's hearing. The facts are steamrolling Trump's criminal mendacity. That he is a pathological liar who tried to cling to power is beyond debate.

    You'd have an easier time arguing the Whopper is a vegan delight.

    But after listening to the Kinzinger tapes this week, and after hearing from thousands of deplorables over the years, I do have a question for them: Is this seriously how you want to be remembered? Do you want to be on the side of death threats? You're attacking an honourable man like Kinzinger when your party has less honour than Ikea has Renaissance masterpieces?

    Kinzinger is standing up for American democracy. He is forfeiting his career for the truth. I want to reach out and ask if he might consider becoming the godfather to my daughters. That is how much I respect this man.

    Meanwhile, the deplorables keep falling down by standing up for Trump.

    A couple of years ago, an interviewer asked me what I would identify as the biggest problem with the MAGA cult. That's simple. Trump brings out the worst in the people who love him the most. He green lights horrible impulses.

    Have you ever heard of a Trump supporter who rescues puppies or refugees from the developing world? Have you ever heard of a Trump supporter volunteering in a soup kitchen? Trump supporters are only animated by their undying love of Trump. Everything else creates cognitive dissonance.

    Until it got too depressing, I used to maintain a file of MAGA cultists acting badly in public. Racist meltdowns. Vulgar rants about Nancy Pelosi. To stare into their eyes was to realize they'd been swallowed alive by anger.

    There's no point in sugar-coating. Those video clips were much like the voice mails Kinzinger released on Tuesday: a showcase of misguided "patriots" who don't know squat about the country they claim to love, or the system of government they recklessly endangered because the results of a free and fair election gave their lost and brittle souls a terminal boo-boo.

    The emails I get from MAGA cultists these days might as well be ghostwritten by violent flat-earthers. All they've got left is lashing out at reality. The truth could set them free. put they remain self-shackled in the chains of lies and the tragic hero worship of a false idol.

    Adam Kinzinger never got sucked into this vortex of partisan idiocy. He sees Donald Trump for what the former president is: a threat to democracy.

    And now the congressman needs a security detail.

    Ifs time to identify and destroy the lives of everyone who has threatened to take his. Really. It's time for the MAGA cult to be burned to the ground.
    Adam Kinzinger is an American patriot.

    His critics are the treasonous scumbags who should rot in hell.


    I don't know about tomorrow
    I just live for day to day
    I don't borrow from the sunshine
    For it's skies may turn to gray

    I don't worry o'er the future
    For I know what Jesus said
    And today I'll walk beside Him
    For He knows what lies ahead

    Many things about tomorrow
    I don't seem to understand
    But I know who holds tomorrow
    And I know who holds my hand

    Ev'ry step is getting brighter
    As the golden stairs I climb
    Ev'ry burden's getting lighter
    Ev'ry cloud is silver lined

    There the sun is always shining
    There no tear will dim the eye
    At the ending of the rainbow
    Where the mountains touch the sky

    Many things about tomorrow
    I don't seem to understand
    But I know who holds tomorrow
    And I know who holds my hand

    When Americans Say They Believe in God, What Do They Mean?

    Nine-in-ten Americans believe in a higher power, but only a slim majority believe in God as described in the Bible


    Previous Pew Research Center studies have shown that the share of Americans who believe in God with absolute certainty has declined in recent years, while the share saying they have doubts about God’s existence – or that they do not believe in God at all – has grown.

    These trends raise a series of questions: When respondents say they don’t believe in God, what are they rejecting? Are they rejecting belief in any higher power or spiritual force in the universe? Or are they rejecting only a traditional Christian idea of God – perhaps recalling images of a bearded man in the sky? Conversely, when respondents say they do believe in God, what do they believe in – God as described in the Bible, or some other spiritual force or supreme being?

    A new Pew Research Center survey of more than 4,700 U.S. adults finds that one-third of Americans say they do not believe in the God of the Bible, but that they do believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe. A slim majority of Americans (56%) say they believe in God “as described in the Bible.” And one in ten do not believe in any higher power or spiritual force.

    In the U.S., belief in a deity is common even among the religiously unaffiliated – a group composed of those who identify themselves, religiously, as atheistic, agnostic, or “nothing in particular,” and sometimes referred to, collectively, as religious “nones.” Indeed, nearly three-quarters of religious “nones” (72%) believe in a higher power of some kind, even if not in God as described in the Bible.

    The survey questions that mention the Bible do not specify any particular verses or translations, leaving that up to each respondent’s understanding. But it is clear from questions elsewhere in the survey that Americans who say they believe in God “as described in the Bible” generally envision an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving deity who determines most or all of what happens in their lives. By contrast, people who say they believe in a “higher power or spiritual force” – but not in God as described in the Bible – are much less likely to believe in a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, and active in human affairs.

    Overall, about half of Americans (48%) say that God or another higher power directly determines what happens in their lives all or most of the time. An additional 18% say God or some other higher power determines what happens to them “just some of the time.”

    Nearly eight-in-ten U.S. adults think God or a higher power has protected them, and two-thirds say they have been rewarded by the Almighty. By comparison, somewhat fewer see God as judgmental and punitive. Six-in-ten Americans say God or a higher power will judge all people on what they have done, and four-in-ten say they have been punished by God or the spiritual force they believe is at work in the universe.

    In addition, the survey finds that three-quarters of American adults say they try to talk to God (or another higher power in the universe), and about three-in-ten U.S. adults say God (or a higher power) talks back. The survey also asked, separately, about rates of prayer. People who pray on a regular basis are especially likely to say that they speak to God and that God speaks to them. But the survey shows that praying and talking to God are not fully interchangeable. For example, four-in-ten people (39%) who say they seldom or never pray nonetheless report that they talk to God.

    These are among the key findings of the new survey, conducted Dec. 4 to 18, 2017, among 4,729 participants in Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel, with an overall margin of sampling error for the full survey of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

    To explore the U.S. public’s beliefs about God, the survey first asked, simply: “Do you believe in God, or not?”

    Those who said “yes” – 80% of all respondents – received a follow-up question asking them to clarify whether they believe in “God as described in the Bible” or they “do not believe in God as described in the Bible, but do believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe.” Most people in this group – indeed, a slim majority of all Americans (56%) – say they believe in God as described in the Bible.

    Those who answered the first question by saying that they do not believe in God (19% of all respondents) also received a follow-up question. They were asked to clarify whether they “do not believe in God as described in the Bible, but do believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe” or, on the contrary, they “do not believe there is ANY higher power or spiritual force in the universe.” Of this group, about half (10% of U.S. adults) say they do not believe in a higher power or spiritual force of any kind.

    All told, one-third of respondents ultimately say that although they do not believe in the God of the Bible, they do believe in a higher power or spiritual force of some kind – including 23% who initially said they believe in God and 9% who initially said they do not believe in God.

    A note on trends in belief in God

    When asked additional questions about what they believe God or another higher power in the universe is like, those who believe in God as described in the Bible and those who believe in another kind of higher power or spiritual force express substantially different views. Simply put, those who believe in the God of the Bible tend to perceive a more powerful, knowing, benevolent and active deity.

    For instance, nearly all adults who say they believe in the God of the Bible say they think God loves all people regardless of their faults, and that God has protected them. More than nine-in-ten people who believe in the biblical God envisage a deity who knows everything that goes on in the world, and nearly nine-in-ten say God has rewarded them, and has the power to direct or change everything that happens in the world.

    Far fewer people who believe in some other higher power or spiritual force (but not the God of the Bible) ascribe these attributes and actions to that higher power. Still, even among this group, half or more say they believe another higher power in the universe loves all people (69%), is omniscient (53%), has protected them (68%), and rewarded them (53%).

    Belief in God as described in the Bible is most pronounced among U.S. Christians. Overall, eight-in-ten self-identified Christians say they believe in the God of the Bible, while one in five do not believe in the biblical description of God but do believe in a higher power of some kind. Very few self-identified Christians (just 1%) say they do not believe in any higher power at all.

    Compared with Christians, Jews and people with no religious affiliation are much more likely to say they do not believe in God or a higher power of any kind. Still, big majorities in both groups do believe in a deity (89% among Jews, 72% among religious “nones”), including 56% of Jews and 53% of the religiously unaffiliated who say they do not believe in the God of the Bible but do believe in some other higher power of spiritual force in the universe. (The survey did not include enough interviews with Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or respondents from other minority religious groups in the United States to permit separate analysis of their beliefs.)

    When asked about a variety of possible attributes or characteristics of God, U.S. Christians by and large paint a portrait that reflects common Christian teachings about God. For instance, 93% of Christians believe God (or another higher power in the universe) loves all people, regardless of their faults. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say that God knows everything that happens in the world. And about eight-in-ten (78%) believe God has the power to direct or change everything that goes on in the world. In total, three-quarters of U.S. Christians believe that God possesses all three of these attributes – that the deity is loving, omniscient, and omnipotent.

    However, the survey finds sizable differences in the way various Christian subgroups perceive God. For example, while nine in ten of those in the historically black Protestant (92%) and evangelical (91%) traditions say they believe in God as described in the Bible, smaller majorities of mainline Protestants and Catholics say they have faith in the biblical God. Sizable minorities of Catholics (28%) and mainline Protestants (26%) say they believe in a higher power or spiritual force, but not in God as described in the Bible.

    Similarly, while about nine-in-ten adherents in the historically black Protestant tradition (91%) and evangelicals (87%) believe that God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, just six-in-ten Catholics and mainline Protestants say God possesses all three attributes.

    Evangelicals and those in the historically black Protestant tradition are also more likely than members of other major U.S. Christian traditions to say that God has personally protected, rewarded, and punished them. But across all subgroups, Christians are far more likely to say God has protected and rewarded them than to say God has punished them.

    Religious ‘nones’ are divided in their views about God

    Seven-in-ten religiously unaffiliated adults believe in a higher power of some kind, including 17% who say they believe in God as described in the Bible and 53% who believe in some other form of higher power or spiritual force in the universe. Roughly one-quarter of religious “nones” (27%) say they do not believe in a higher power of any kind. But there are stark differences based on how, exactly, members of this group describe their religious identity.

    None of the survey respondents who describe themselves as atheists believe in God as described in the Bible. About one-in-five, however, do believe in some other kind of higher power or spiritual force in the universe (18%). Roughly eight-in-ten self-described atheists (81%) say they do not believe in a higher power of any kind.

    Self-described agnostics look very different from atheists on this question. While very few agnostics (3%) say they believe in God as described in the Bible, a clear majority (62%) say they believe in some other kind of spiritual force. Just three in ten say there is no higher power in the universe.

    Respondents who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” are even more likely to express belief in a deity; nine in ten take this position, mirroring the U.S. public overall in this regard. While most people in this “nothing in particular” group believe in a spiritual force other than the biblical God (60%), a sizable minority (28%) say they do believe in God as described in the Bible.

    Young people are less inclined to claim belief in biblical God

    Majorities in all adult age groups say they believe in God or some other higher power, ranging from 83% of those ages 18 to 29 to 96% of those ages 50 to 64. But young adults are far less likely than their older counterparts to say they believe in God as described in the Bible. Whereas roughly two-thirds of adults ages 50 and older say they believe in the biblical God, just 49% of those in their 30s and 40s and just 43% of adults under 30 say the same. A similar share of adults ages 18 to 29 say they believe in another higher power (39%).

    The survey also shows that, compared with older adults, those under age 50 generally view God as less powerful and less involved in earthly affairs than do older Americans. At the same time, however, young adults are somewhat more likely than their elders to say they believe that they personally have been punished by God or a higher power in the universe.

    Highly educated Americans are less likely to believe in God of the Bible

    Among U.S. adults with a high school education or less, fully two-thirds say they believe in God as described in the Bible. Far fewer adults who have obtained some college education say they believe in God as described in the Bible (53%). And among college graduates, fewer than half (45%) say they believe in the biblical God.

    The data also show that, compared with those with lower levels of educational attainment, college graduates are less likely to believe that God (or another higher power in the universe) is active and involved in the world and in their personal lives. For instance, while roughly half of the college graduates (54%) say they have been rewarded by God, two-thirds of those with some college education (68%) and three-quarters of those with a high school education or less (75%) say this. And just one-third of college graduates say God determines all or most of what happens in their lives, far below the share who say this among those with less education.

    Republicans and Democrats have very different beliefs about the divine

    Republicans and Democrats have very different notions about God. Among Republicans and those who lean toward the GOP, seven in ten say they believe in God as described in the Bible. Democrats and those who lean Democratic, by contrast, are far less likely to believe in God as described in the Bible (45%), and are more likely than Republicans to believe in another kind of higher power (39% vs. 23%). Democrats also are more likely than Republicans to say they do not believe in any higher power or spiritual force in the universe (14% vs. 5%).

    Additionally, while 85% of Republicans believe God loves all people, eight-in-ten believe God is all-knowing, and seven-in-ten believe God is all-powerful; Democrats are less likely to express each of these views. Two-thirds of Republicans say they believe God possesses all three of these attributes, compared with roughly half of Democrats (49%). Republicans also are more likely than Democrats to say God has protected, rewarded, or punished them.

    Among Democrats, the survey finds big differences between whites and nonwhites in views about God. Most nonwhite Democrats, who are predominantly black or Hispanic, say they believe in God as described in the Bible, and seven-in-ten or more say they believe God is all-loving, all-knowing or all-powerful, with two-thirds ascribing all of these attributes to God. In these ways, nonwhite Democrats have more in common with Republicans than they do with white Democrats.

    In stark contrast with non-white Democrats, just one-third of white Democrats say they believe in God as described in the Bible, while 21% do not believe in a higher power of any kind. And just one-in-three white Democrats say they believe God (or another higher power in the universe) is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving.

    BY Dr. Tracy Munsil, CRC Executive Director
    From the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University

    More than two-thirds of American adults adopt the label “Christian” to identify their faith, but this broad adoption of that label may reflect little deep spiritual commitment to foundational biblical teachings or understanding of what it means to be a Christ-follower.

    In fact, a new study shows that the meaning of the term “Christian” is far from monolithic, with a number of diverse and often-conflicting views—and even many unbiblical perspectives—among those who embrace the label.

    According to the latest report from the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University, a full 69% of U.S. adults self-identify as Christian. Yet, a closer look at this large swath of the American population reveals their professed “Christian” faith is built on disturbingly shaky theological foundations.

    For example, the study found that although self-identified Christians in the study embrace many basic tenets of the faith, at the same time they hold many views in conflict with traditional teachings—among these, believing people are basically good and rejecting the existence of objective truth rooted in Scripture. Many don’t even acknowledge Jesus Christ as savior among their theological beliefs.

    They also look more to feelings, experiences, and family and friends than the Bible for moral guidance. A full 58% contend the Holy Spirit is not a real, living being and 57% embrace the concept of Karma And only 9% of this large population of self-identified Christians actually possess a biblical worldview, according to new research from George Barna, CRC Director of Research.

    As Barna explained, “’Christian’ has become somewhat of a generic term rather than a name that reflects a deep commitment to passionately pursuing and being like Jesus Christ.”

    Despite 69% claiming the faith, in reality only a tiny minority of American adults (6%) possess a biblical worldview and demonstrate a consistent understanding and application of biblical principles. The CRC research identifies this segment of self-identified Christians—those who possess a biblical worldview—as “Integrated Disciples.”

    The CRC research also shows that these differences in biblical beliefs often lead to widely divergent views on questions of morality and politics among American Christians, including views on marriage, abortion, and sex before marriage. It also creates an increasingly distorted cultural perception of the beliefs and behaviors of Christians, especially when it comes to understanding political polling and voting, according to Barna.

    Unsurprisingly, when it comes to these key social, moral, and political issues, Integrated Disciples—those with a biblical worldview—tend to be more conservative than other self-identified Christians.

    As ACU President Len Munsil noted, “This groundbreaking research from the Cultural Research Center once again demonstrates how important it is for our University to strategically train the next generation in biblical worldview.”

    Munsil explained, “The foundations of the Christian faith need to be built solidly within each of our students. Our goal is to graduate Integrated Disciples, students who deeply understand and apply biblical principles in all areas of their lives.”

    But Munsil also pointed to both the need and opportunity to expand biblical discipleship within American churches and beyond. “Fragments of biblical truth are still embraced by the overwhelming majority of American adults, which means that each of the estimated 176 million self-identified Christians has a starting point of belief that can be built upon and refined into a mature, consistent biblical worldview.”

    The latest report from CRC’s American Worldview Inventory 2021 examines different groups of people labeled as Christian and compares the spiritual leanings of each group. The segments explored include those who call themselves Christian; self-identified born-again Christians; self-described evangelical Christians; people whose theological beliefs establish them as born-again Christians; and people who possess a biblical worldview (referred to as Integrated Disciples).

    The study found a dramatic range in the number of people who might be described as “Christian,” depending on how it’s defined. For example, the most inclusive definition is self-identification: people who simply say they are Christian (69%). At the opposite end of the continuum are those who contend they are Christian by virtue of possessing a biblical worldview (just 9%). The other three groups examined in the study— self-identified born-again Christians, self-described evangelical Christians, and theologically-born again Christians—comprised anywhere from 28% to 35% of U.S. adults as “Christian.”

    Depending on the definition, the total number of American Christians ranges from a high of an estimated 176 million self-professed Christians to a low of about 15 million adults who have a biblical worldview. Of course, ultimately, only God knows the heart of each individuals as to who has genuinely put their trust in Jesus Christ.

    Barna explained that the broader self-conception of the Christian faith adopted by almost 70% of American adults tends to dilute and distort the cultural understanding of what constitutes Christianity.

    This is especially true in the area of politics and voting behavior of Christians. He pointed out that many polling organizations shortcut the spiritual classification process by simply asking people if they embrace a particular religious label, including self-identification as a Christian.

    “The survey results clearly demonstrate how careful you have to be when interpreting data associated with a particular segment of people who are labeled as Christians,” Barna cautioned. “Political polling, in particular, may mislead people regarding the views and preferences of genuine Christ-followers simply based on how those surveys measure the Christian population.”

    The data found that 44% of Canadians believe “big events like wars, recessions and the outcomes of elections, are controlled by small groups of people working in secret against us.” The survey sample represents the equivalent of 13 million Canadians, Abacus said.
    Nearly as many, or 41%, agree “much of our lives are being controlled by plots hatched in secret places.”
    More than one-third of Canadians believe in the so-called white replacement theory. 37% of respondents, representing 11 million Canadians, agreed with the statement: “There is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Canadians with immigrants who agree with their political views.”
    Abacus surveyed 1,500 randomly selected, nationally representative Canadian adults from May 20 to 24, as part of a series called “Trust & Facts: What Canadians Believe.” Respondents were also asked about specific conspiracy theories.
    One in five Canadians, or 20% of those surveyed, believe it is definitely or probably true that the World Economic Forum (WEF) is “a group of global elites with a secretive strategy to impose their ideas on the world.”
    A further 13% believe it is definitely or probably true that Microsoft founder Bill Gates is using microchips to track people and affect human behaviour.
    The survey also looked at demographic and political leanings.
    It found that of the 44% of the population who believe in conspiracy theories, the views depended on party affiliations. 72% of supporters of the People’s Party of Canada believed in conspiracy theories compared with 28% of PPC supporters who did not. Among Conservative Party of Canada supporters, the belief was split 50% for and 50% against conspiracy theories. Among Liberal supporters, 31% believed in conspiracy theories versus 69% against. And 30% of NDP voters believed the theories versus 70% who did not.
    Of those who believe in the white replacement theory, 49% identified as having views on the “right”; 41% said their views were “centre”; and 21% had “left” views.
    Among those who believed the WEF conspiracy theory was definitely or probably true, 32% have views on the “right”; 20% have centrist views; and15% have “left” views.
    The survey also found a strong correlation between those who believe in conspiracy theories and a distrust of the media and government.
    Among those who believed in the WEF conspiracy theory, 42% said they don’t trust media; 36% said they don’t trust the government, and 51% said they did not have COVID shots.

    Good evening. Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of preventing war, this is the greatest challenge that our country will face during our lifetimes. The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but it will if we do not act quickly.

    It's a problem that we will not solve in the next few years, and it is likely to get progressively worse through the rest of this century.

    We must not be selfish or timid if we hope to have a decent world for our children and our grandchildren.

    We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.

    Two days from now, I will present to the Congress my energy proposals. Its members will be my partners and they have already given me a great deal of valuable advice. Many of these proposals will be unpopular.

    Some will cause you to put up with inconveniences and to make sacrifices. The most important thing about these proposals is that the alternative may be a national catastrophe. Further delay can affect our strength and our power as a nation.

    Our decision about energy will test the character of the American people and the ability of the President and the Congress to govern this nation. This difficult effort will be the “moral equivalen t o war”—except that we will be uniting our efforts to build and not not to destroy.

    Worse Than in the Winter

    Now I know that some of you may doubt that we face real energy shortages. The 1973 gas lines are gone, and with this springtime weather, our homes are warm again.

    But our energy problem is worse tonight than it was in 1973 or a few weeks ago in the dead of winter. It's worse because more waste has occurred, and more time has passed by without our planning for the future. And it will get worse every day until we act.

    The oil and natural gas werel y on for 75 percent of our energy are simply running out. In spite of increased effort, domestic production has been dropping steadily at about 6 percent a yea. Imports have doubled in the last five years. And our nation's economic and political independence is becoming increasingly vulnerable. Unless profound changes are made to lower oil consumption, we now believe that early in the 1980's the world will be demanding more oil than it can produce.

    The world now uses about 60 million barrels of oil a day, and demand increases each year about 5 percent. This means that just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new Saudi Arabia every three years. Obviously this cannot continue.

    We must look back into history to understand our energy problem. Twice in the last several hundred years there's been a transition in the way people use energy.

    The first was about 200 years ago, When we changed away from wood—which had provided about 90 percent reffitient. This change became the basis of all fuel—to coal, which was more of the Industrial Revolution.

    The second change took place in this century, with the growing use of oil and natural gas. They were more convenient and cheaper than coal, and the supply seemed to be almost without limit. They made possible the age of automobile and airplane travel. Nearly everyone who is alive today grew up during this period and we have never known anything different. Because we are now running out of gas and oil, we must prepare quickly for a third change, to strict conservation and to the renewed use of coal and permanent renewable energy sources, like solar power.

    The world has not prepared for the future. During the 1950's, people used twice as much oil as during the 1940's. During the 1960's, we used twice as much as during the 1950's. And in each of those decades, more oil was consumed than in all of man's previous history combined.

    World consumption of oil is still going up. If it were possible to keep it rising during the 1970's and 1980's by 5 percent a year as it has in the past, we could use up all the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.

    I know that many of you have suspected that some supplies of oil and gas are being withheld from the market. You may be right, but suspicions about the oil companies cannot change the fact that we are running out of petroleum.

    All of us have heard about the large oil fields on Alaska's North Slope. In a few years when the North Slope is producing fully, its total output will be just about equal to two years' increase in our own nation's energy demand.

    Each new inventory of world oil reserves has been more disturbing than the last. World oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years. But some time in the 1980's it can't go up any more. Demand will overtake production. We have no choice about that.

    But we do have a choice about how we will spend the next few years. Each American uses the energy equivalent of 60 barrels of oil per person each year. Ours is the most wasteful nation on earth. We waste more energy than we import. With about the same standard of living, we use twice as much energy per personas do other countries like Germany. Japan and Sweden.

    The Choice of Drifting

    One choice, of course, is to continue doing what we have been doing before. We can drift along for a few more years.

    Our consumption of oil would keep going up every year. Our cars would continue to be too large and inefficient. Three‐quarters of them would continue to carry only one person—the driver—while our public transportation system continues to decline. We can delay insulating our homes, and they will continue to lose about 50 percent of their heat in waste.

    We can continue using scarce oil and natural gas to generate electricity, and continue wasting two‐thirds of their fuel value in the process.

    If we do not act, then by 1985 we will be using 33 percent more energy than we use today.

    The Danger of Waiting

    We can't substantially increase our domestic production, so we would need to import twice as much oil as we do now. Supplies will be uncertain. The cost will keep going up. Six years ago, we paid $3.7 billion for imported oil. Last year we spent $36 billion—nearly 10 times as much—and this year we may spend $45 billion.

    Unless we act, we will spend more than $550 billion for imported oil by 1985—more than $2,500 for every man, woman, and child in America. Along with that money that we transport overseas, we will continue losing American jobs and becoming increasingly vulnerable to supply interruptions.

    Now we have a choice. But if we wait, we will constantly live in fear of embargoes. We could endanger our, freedom as a sovereign nation to act in foreign affairs. Within 10 years we would not be able to import enough oil—from any, country, at any acceptable price.

    If we wait and do not act, then our factories will not be able to keep our people on the job with reduced supplies of fuel. Too few of our utility companies will have switched to coal, which is our most abundant energy source.

    We will not be ready to keep our transportation system, running with, smaller, more efficient cars and a better network of buses, trains, and public transportation.

    We will feel mounting pressure to plunder the environment. We'll have a crash program to build more nuclear plants, strip‐mine and burn more coal, and drill more offshore wells than if we begin to conserve right now. Inflation will soar, production will go down, people will lose their jobs.

    Intense competition for oil will build up among nations and also among the different regions within our own country which has already started.

    If we fail to act soon, we will face an economic, social and political crisis that will threaten our free institutions.

    But we still have another choice., We can begin to prepare right now. We can decide to act while there is still time.

    That is the concept of the energy policy we will present on Wednesday. Our national energy plan is based on 10 fundamental principles.

    The first principle is that we can have an effective and comprehensive energy policy only if the Government takes responsibility for it and if the people understand the seriousness of the challenge and are willing to make sacrifices.

    The second principle is that healthy economic growth must continue. Only by saving energy can we maintain our standard of living and keep our people at work. An effective conservation program will create hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

    Cornerstone Is Conservation

    The third principle is that we must protect the environment. Our energy problems have the same cause as our environmental problems—wasteful use of resources. Conservation helps us solve both problems at once.

    The fourth principle is that we must reduce our vulnerability to potentially devastating embargoes. We can protect ourselves from uncertain supplies by reducing our demand for oil, by making the most of our abundant resources such as coal and by developing a strategic petroleum reserve.

    The fifth principle is that we must be fair. Our solutions must ask equal sacrifices from every region, every class of people and every interest group. Industry will have to do its part to conserve, just as consumers will. The energy producers deserve fair treatment, but we will not let the oil companies profiteer.

    The sixth principle, and the cornerstone of our policy, is to reduce demand through conservation. Our emphasis on conservation is a clear difference between this plan and others which merely encouraged crash production efforts Conservation is the quickest, cheapest, most practical source of energy. Conservation is the only way that we can buy a barrel of oil for about $2. It costs about $13 to waste it.

    The seventh principle is that prices should generally reflect the true replacement costs of energy. We are only cheating ourselves if we make energy artificially cheap end use more than we can really afford.

    The eighth principle is that government policies must be predictable and certain. Both consumers and producers need policies they can count on so they can plan ahead. This is one reason I am working with the Congress to create a new Department of Energy, to replace more than 50 different agencies that now have some control over energy.

    The ninth principle is that we must conserve the fuels that are scarcest and make the most of those that are plentiful. We can't continue to use oil end gas for 75 percent of our consumption as we do now when they make up only 7 percent of our domestic reserves. We need to shift to plentiful coal while taking care to protect the environment, end to apply stricter safety standards to nuclear energy.

    The tenth and last principle is that we must start now to develop the new, unconventional sources of energy we will rely on in the next century.

    Now these 10 principles have guided the development of the policy I would describe to you and the Congress on Wednesday night.

    Our energy plan will also include a number of specific goals, to measure our progress toward a stable energy system.

    These are the goals we set for 1985:

    ¶To reduce the annual growth rate in our energy demand to less than 2 percent.

    ¶To reduce gasoline consumption by 10 per cent below its current level.

    ¶To cut in half the portion of United States oil which is imported, from a potential level of 16 million barrels to 6 million barrels a day.

    ¶To establish a strategic petroleum reserve of one billion barrels, more than six months supply.

    ¶To increase our coal production by about two‐thirds to more than 1 billion tons a year.

    ¶To insulate 90 percent of American homes and all new buildings.

    ¶To use solar energy in more than two and one‐half million houses.

    Progress to Be Monitored

    We will monitor our progress toward these goals year by year. Our plan will call for stricter conservation measures if we fall behind.

    I can't tell you that these measures will be easy, nor will they be popular. But I think most of you realize that a policy which does not ask for changes or sacrifices would not be an effective policy at this late date.

    This plan is essential to protect our jobs, our environment, our standard of living, and our future.

    Whether this plan truly makes a difference will not be decided here in Washington, but in every town and every factory, in every home and on every highway and every farm.

    I believe that this can be a positive challenge. There is something especially American in the kinds of changes that we have to make. We always have been proud, through our history, of being efficient people.

    We always have been proud of our ingenuity, our skill at answering questions. Now we need efficiency and ingenuity more than ever.

    We always, have been proud of out leadership in the world. Now we have a chance again to give the world a positive example.

    We've always been proud of our vision of the future. We've always wanted to give our children and grandchildren a world richer in possibilities than we've had. They are the ones we must provide for now. They are the ones who will suffer most if we don't act.

    I've given you some of the principles of the plan.

    Plans Demand Sacrifices

    I am sure each of you will find something you don't like about the specifics of our proposal. It will demand that we make sacrifices and changes in every life. To some degree, the sacrifices will be painful—but so is any meaningful sacrifice. It will lead to some higher costs, and to some greater inconvenience for everyone.

    But the sacrifices can be gradual realistic, and they are necessary. Above all, they will be fair. No one will gain an unfair advantage through this plan. No one will be asked to bear an unfair burden. We will monitor the accuracy of data from the oil and natural gas companies for the first time, so that we will know their true production, supplies, reserves, and profits.

    Those citizens who insist on driving large, unnecessarily powerful cars must expect to pay more for that luxury.

    We can be sure that all the special interest groups in the country will attack the part of this plan that affects them directly. They will say that sacrifice is fine, as long as other people do it, but that their sacrifice is unreasonable, or unfair, or harmful to the country. If they succeed with this approach, then the burden on the ordinary citizen, who is not organized into an interest group, would be crushing.

    There should be only one test for this program: whether it will help our country.

    Other generations of Americans have faced and mastered great challenges. I have faith that meeting this challenge will make.our own lives even richer. If you will join me so that we can work together with patriotism and courage, we will again prove that our great nation can lead the, world into an age of peace, independence and freedom. Thank you very much and good night.

    © 2022 The New York Times Company. April 19, 1977 Credit...The New York Times Archives

    Language functions like money. It is only an intermediary. But like money, it takes on some of the life of the things it represents. It begins in the world of and returns to the world of experience — and it does so via metaphor, which is a function of the right hemisphere, and is rooted in the body. To use a metaphor, language is the money of thought.

    Only the right hemisphere has the capacity to understand metaphor. That might not sound too important — like it could be a nice thing if one were going to do a bit of literary critic. But that is just a sign of the degree to which our world of discourse is dominated by left-hemisphere habits of mind. Metaphoric thinking is fundamental to our understanding of the world, because it is the only way in which understanding can reach outside the system of signs to life itself. It is what links language to life.

    The word metaphor implies something that carries you across an implied gap (Greek meta- across, pherein carry). When I call language metaphorical, I am not thinking only of Keats addressing the Grecian urn — 'Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness, / Thou foster-child of silence and slow time'. Here there are clearly many complex, interacting metaphors, and this creates something new and different from a factual description of the Sosibios Vase is obvious. This is metaphorical language in a dramatic sense. But there are two other, broader, but related, senses in which language is metaphorical. Speaking metaphorically, one might say that language is open to carry us across to the experiential world at 'top' and at the 'bottom'.

    At the 'top' end, I am talking out any context — and these are not any means to be found in poetry alone — in which words are used so as to activate a broad net of connotations, which though present to us, remains implicit, so that the meanings are appreciated as a whole, at once, to the whole of our being, conscious and unconscious, rather than being subject to the isolating effects of sequential, narrow-beam attention. As long as they remain implicit, they cannot be hijacked by the conscious mind and turned into just another series of words, a paraphrase. If this should happen, the power is lost, much like a joke that has to be explained (humour is a right-hemisphere faculty).

    Taken from the Master and his Emmissary

    Ode on a Grecian Urn

    John Keats - 1795-1821

    Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time,
    Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
    What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
    In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
    What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
    What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
    What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

    Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
    Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
    Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
    Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
    Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
    Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
    She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
    For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

    Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
    And, happy melodist, unwearied,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
    More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
    For ever panting, and for ever young;
    All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
    A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

    Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
    To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
    Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
    And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
    What little town by river or sea shore,
    Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
    Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
    And, little town, thy streets for evermore
    Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
    Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

    O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
    Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
    With forest branches and the trodden weed;
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
    As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
    Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
    “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—that is all
    Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

    OTTAWA — Over half of Canadians under age 35 come across racist or prejudiced remarks about immigrants on the internet, a new survey suggests.

    Forty-two percent of all respondents to the online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they saw or heard racist content about immigrants in cyberspace. Almost half aged 18 to 34 said they encountered racist remarks about Black people online, and the same proportion heard such remarks about Indigenous people. About two in five in the same age group said they ran into this type of content about Asian Canadians.

    The case of a white gunman accused of massacring 10 Black people in a racist attack at a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket last weekend has highlighted the role of social media to promote hatred. The online survey of 1,967 Canadians during the week of April 25 cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

    Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, said the indication that younger people are more likely to see this sort of content is unsurprising. “A lot more young people are exposed to these things because they’re much more active and engaged on social media,” he said.

    About 10 percent of respondents said they often see racist remarks online about different racial groups. “I don’t think you could argue that one out of 10 is not that high, because it actually represents a substantial number of people who are seeing this type of diatribe on a daily basis in social media,” Jedwab said.

    Non-white respondents were more likely than their white counterparts to say they encountered racist remarks online.
    About three in five non-white respondents said they came across racist remarks about immigrants, compared to about two in five white respondents.

    Jedwab said this degree of exposure to racist content should be cause for concern in light of the recent shooting in Buffalo. The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a hate crime and an act of racially motivated violent extremism.

    Regular exposure to racist and hateful content online can make people desensitized, potentially allowing a fringe phenomenon to become mainstream, Jedwab said.

    When asked what they do upon coming across this type of content, young people said they do nothing “because there’s too much of it, and they don’t know where to begin to deal with it,” he added.

    The federal government has proposed a law to clamp down on hate speech and abuse by blocking certain websites and forcing platforms to swiftly remove content. Critics have said this approach could curtail the rights of marginalized groups by having their posts misconstrued as harmful.

    This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 17, 2022.

    David Shariatmadari, Sat 30 Apr 2022

    Why is the Anglo-Saxon world so individualistic, and why has China leaned towards collectivism? Was it Adam Smith, or the Bill of Rights; communism and Mao? According to at least one economist, there might be an altogether more surprising explanation: the difference between wheat and rice. You see, it’s fairly straightforward for a lone farmer to sow wheat in soil and live off the harvest. Rice is a different affair: it requires extensive irrigation, which means cooperation across parcels of land, even centralised planning. A place where wheat grows favours the entrepreneur; a place where rice grows favours the bureaucrat.

    The influence of the “initial conditions” that shape societies’ development is what Oded Galor has been interested in for the past 40 years. He believes they reverberate across millennia and even seep into what we might think of as our personalities. Whether or not you have a “future-oriented mindset” – in other words, how much money you save and how likely you are to invest in your education – can, he argues, be partly traced to what kinds of crops grew well in your ancestral homelands. (Where high-yield species such as barley and rice thrive, it pays to sacrifice the immediate gains of hunting by giving over some of your territory to farming. This fosters a longer-term outlook.) Differences in gender equality around the world have their roots in whether land required a plough to cultivate – needing male strength, and relegating women to domestic tasks – or hoes and rakes, which could be used by both sexes.

    Galor has been interested in a lot more besides; his book, The Journey of Humanity, stretches from the emergence of Homo sapiens to the present day, and has a lot to say about the future, too. In just over 240 pages it covers our migration out of Africa, the development of agriculture, the Industrial Revolution and the phenomenal growth of the past two centuries. It takes in population change, the climate crisis and global inequality.

    There will be inevitable comparisons with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, not least because this too is a work of “macrohistory” and Galor is also from Israel, though he has taught at Brown University in the US for the past 30 years. “If you’re born in a place that is incredibly rich in history, you understand that you’re part of a long, long lineage. You see the Temple Mount that was there 3,000 years earlier. You’re really walking in history. So the link to earlier stages of development is very much part of my upbringing in Jerusalem.” The Journey of Humanity is certainly being pitched, at least in terms of impact, as another Sapiens – translation rights have already been sold in 27 languages. But the similarities may be quite superficial. Sapiens was first published when Harari was a young professor, based on a series of lectures to undergraduates. The Journey of Humanity is the culmination of Galor’s career, the recasting of an earlier work, a maths-and-data-heavy book called Unified Growth Theory, in digestible form.

    And while Sapiens ends on an equivocal note, warning that present-day civilisation teeters between the singularity and armageddon, the signal characteristic of The Journey of Humanity is its optimism. If you need an evidence-based antidote to doomscrolling, here it is. The extraordinary increases in standards of living, huge falls in child mortality, incredible gains in knowledge and technology – these are the products of inexorable forces that are not going anywhere, Galor argues, and will only augment as time goes on. Even pandemics and wars, horrific as they are for the millions caught up in them, “cannot divert the journey of humanity from its long-term path”. Surprisingly, given the circumstances we find ourselves in, the book is highly persuasive: Galor builds his case meticulously, always testing his assumptions against the evidence, and without the sense of agenda-pushing that accompanies other boosterish thinkers – the Steven Pinkers or Francis Fukuyamas of this world.

    What sets him apart, perhaps, is a grounding in numbers. “I was an unusual economist in the sense that I always had sort of a deep interest in the mathematics of discrete dynamical systems,” he tells me. Examples of discrete dynamical systems include populations of bacteria or human beings that evolve constrained by things such as food supply or susceptibility to disease. Zooming from his office in Rhode Island, Galor speaks evenly, sounding as though he is always about to break into a half-smile. Like Pinker, he has a shock of silvery hair that approaches his shoulders. “I was sort of an interdisciplinary student, very interested in macro-history, very interested in political science, very interested in economics, and very interested in mathematics. So part of my ability to construct this unified theory of economic growth was those deep mathematical foundations.”

    What is his theory, then, and how does it appear to break new ground? Economists have always found it difficult to reconcile two distinct eras. During the first, any increase in resources led only briefly to greater prosperity. More food, for example, meant people could raise more children. But the gains were lost because a bigger population meant everyone had a smaller share of the pie. This is known as the “Malthusian trap” after the gloomy clergyman and demographer Thomas Malthus, and it lasted a couple of hundred thousand years.

    Then, suddenly, beginning in the 18th century, everything changed. In an increasingly technological world, it paid to be literate and better trained. As a result, parents focused their resources on raising a smaller number of children equipped with the skills they needed to make it in the world. They were investing in “human capital”, and soon the state did too: quite quickly the whole population became much better educated. That meant it was more likely to invent new things that made it easier to produce wealth, which was in turn ploughed back into human capital: a virtuous cycle. The rocket ship of progress took off.

    You might assume that different rules were operating in these two different periods. Galor’s “unified” theory yokes them together, arguing that the underlying engine of growth has always been the same. “I basically model how the advancement of technology feeds back into both the scale of the population and human adaptation, and how in turn, human adaptation and the scale of the population advances technology.” This has been going on, he says, since “the very dawn of the human species”. So why that sudden change around 1760? Galor likens it to another kind of dynamical system – water boiling in a kettle. The heat of innovation begins the moment you switch it on, but only at a certain point near the end do bubbles riotously break the surface. The accumulated increase in temperature brings the system to a tipping point. The Malthusian trap, Galor says, simply “vanishes”, just as water turns to steam. But unlike with a kettle, there’s no off switch, because the “heat” of technological innovation is a self-reinforcing process.

    Viewed in this way, the Industrial Revolution was a benign development: less dark satanic mills than sunlit uplands. But what about the hideous conditions, the slums, children put to work in factories because their little hands could reach into the moving parts to clear away debris? Galor argues that industrialisation in fact more or less eradicated child labour, and had the added bonus of instigating universal education.

    Because of the demands of subsistence living, child labour had been an “intrinsic element of human societies throughout history,” he writes. At the time of the Industrial Revolution, however, it had reached a peak that only further technological change could remedy. It did that in two ways: first, machines quickly became better at doing the kind of basic work children had been used for. Second, the need for a skilled workforce meant that it was in employers’ – and parents’ – interests for children to learn rather than work. Universal education followed, spurred on by industrialists, and opposed only by the landed gentry who realised that if tenant farmers’ children went to school, they would go and get better jobs elsewhere. In any case, Galor’s data shows that “the scourge of child labour first disappeared in the most industrialised nations and, within them, in the most industrialised areas”.

    It’s a little harder to see another side effect of industrialisation through rose-tinted glasses. A huge increase in pollution made lives dirty and difficult at the time, but has bequeathed an even deadlier legacy to us and future generations: climate change. Can Galor really be optimistic about that too? “So my view is a bit complex,” he says carefully. “What triggered climate change is, yes, pollution created since the Industrial Revolution. At the same time, that revolution created two additional important trends. First, it started a fertility decline that initially occurred in the western world and gradually diffused around the globe. Even India is now having fertility just at replacement level, which is incredible. And then at the same time, we know that this decline in fertility freed an enormous amount of resources for investment in human capital.”

    With that comes greater potential for technological progress. “If the growth of population starts to decline, this itself will reduce the current trend of carbon emissions. And then the power of innovation causes me to be confident that perhaps within two or three decades, we will have revolutionary technologies that will reverse those emissions. Now, we cannot envision what these revolutionary technologies will be. But I do believe, as we saw in the context of Covid, that such technologies will emerge and will allow us to prevail.” If that seems like a stunning gamble, Galor is clear that he’s not for putting all our eggs in a techno-utopian basket. He clarifies that “actions to mitigate carbon emission are critical ingredients in averting the potential catastrophic consequences of climate change”. It’s just that he believes there are two other vital weapons in our arsenal: fertility decline and innovation, both of them inevitable consequences of growth.

    Not that he recommends simply watching and hoping; he has policy prescriptions too. In the case of the climate crisis, they come a bit out of left field. Climate policy should not stop at cutting carbon: it should involve pushing hard for gender equality, access to education and the availability of contraceptives, to help drive forward the decline in fertility. Demographic advocacy like this, he says, might be better received by developing countries than an insistence on regulating industry, since “they provide the benefits of economic growth alongside environmental preservation”.

    Growth is good, then, but no one needs reminding that its benefits haven’t been felt equally. Explaining the different trajectories of countries since the 18th century takes up as much room in The Journey of Humanity as the mechanism of growth itself. The basic idea is that those places that were a little bit further behind in the run up to the Industrial Revolution soon found themselves left in the dust. This is where the “initial conditions” really came into their own. So, perhaps your land had been less suitable for growing high-yield crops. Or maybe you lived in a part of the world beset by livestock-bothering Tsetse flies. Politics and institutions played their part too: in 1485, for example, the Ottoman sultan banned movable type printing using the Arabic script in order to protect religious interests, ceding a head start to northern European nations that took up the invention with alacrity.

    As progress gathered pace, countries that started out with an advantage pressed it ruthlessly, enslaving and colonising others, and using the expropriated resources to turbo-charge their own growth. Once industrialisation started in earnest, the colonised were essentially held in a state of arrested development, farming to provide food and raw materials for their imperial masters, whose economies were freed up even further to specialise in advanced technologies.

    There’s one remaining part of the jigsaw. To explain it, Galor starts with a colourful analogy. He asks us to imagine a land mass that has five different colours of parrot on it: blue, yellow, black, green and red. A hurricane hits, and some of the parrots are blown on to a neighbouring island. It’s unlikely that every kind of parrot would have been picked up by the winds; perhaps only the green, blue and red ones, making this breakaway population less diverse. In time, a few of these parrots migrate to another island, and again they represent only a subset of the population: just the blue and red ones. This third population is even less diverse.

    Galor argues that this is precisely what happened when Homo sapiens left Africa, and the pattern was repeated with each onward migration. Africa is the most diverse place on the planet, genomically and culturally, and diversity has a knock-on effect on prosperity. It accounts for about a quarter of the otherwise unexplained variation between nations, Galor calculates; in contrast, diseases (the Tsetse fly, malaria etc) account for one seventh, and political institutions (democracies versus autocracies) less than one tenth. What is it about diversity that makes such a big impact? Social cohesiveness – low diversity, in other words – can have its benefits, particularly in earlier phases of development. But in the modern world, or the boiling kettle phase, cultural fluidity is the greatest driver of innovation. “Like biological breeding, the mating of ideas … benefits from a broader pool of individuals,” he writes. That mating of ideas gives rise to new policies, new inventions and enhanced productivity, stoking the engine of growth. Culturally fluid societies are also more likely to be able to adapt to changing conditions.

    Galor believes, not uncontroversially, that there might be a sweet spot between homogeneity and fragmentation, where diversity and cross-pollination thrive without undermining social cohesiveness. Countries may sit outside of that spot in either direction: they can be stultifyingly monocultural, or fractious and prone to civil strife. In 2012, he was challenged by a group of academics who warned that the suggestion of an “ideal level of genetic variation” could be misused to “justify indefensible practices such as ethnic cleansing”. Galor responded that the criticism was based on a “gross misinterpretation” of his conclusions. And the policy prescriptions they generate are, on the face of them, benign. “If Bolivia, which has one of the least diverse populations, would foster cultural diversity, its per capita income could increase as much as fivefold,” he writes. “If Ethiopia – one of the world’s most diverse countries – were to adopt policies to enhance social cohesion and tolerance of difference, it could double its current income per capita.”

    Rather than saying that genes equal destiny, Galor’s message appears to be that whatever the circumstances you have inherited, change is possible. It’s an analysis of the human condition that leads not to a counsel of despair, but a new set of tools he believes can help build a better future. But is that all wishful thinking? I ask whether his innately sunny disposition means we should distrust his intuitions. “I think that I do have a positive outlook in my personal life. Naturally that must be projected on to the way that I view the world.”

    “But when I’m projecting my optimism,” he adds, “I’m projecting it based on my study of history.” Galor contends that his work goes beyond intuition, even beyond theory: “This has all been explored empirically, in a rigorous way.”

    It’s tempting, particularly at this moment in history, to bask in a silver-haired sage’s confidence in his facts and figures. Maybe that in itself should cause our sceptical antennae to twitch. For many, though, a dose of faith in human progress will be hard to resist.

    In seeking to prevent environmental breakdown, what counts above all is not the new things we do, but the old things we stop doing. Renewable power, for instance, is useful in preventing climate chaos only to the extent that it displaces fossil fuels. Unfortunately, new technologies do not always lead automatically to the destruction of old ones.

    In the UK, for example, building new offshore wind power has been cheaper than building new gas plants since 2017. But the wholesale disinvestment from fossil fuels you might have expected is yet to happen. Since the UN climate summit last November, the government has commissioned one new oil and gas field and reportedly plans to license six more. It has overridden the Welsh government to insist on the extension of the Aberpergwm coalmine. Similar permissions have been granted in most rich nations, even before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

    Why? Politics. Fossil fuel companies need to spend just a fraction of their income on lobbying – funding politicians and their parties, buying the services of think tanks and public relations agencies, using advertising to greenwash their credentials – to impede the energy transition and defend their investments. Fossil fuels will become stranded assets only when governments insist that they be left in the ground. Yet, somehow, a major strand of thinking in rich nations continues to ignore this obvious truth.

    The latest example is the economist Oded Galor’s much-praised new book, The Journey of Humanity. Galor argues that the driving forces of human development override setbacks such as wars, pandemics, and depressions to deliver ever-increasing prosperity and welfare. They will, he believes, continue to propel a “relentless march of humanity” towards an “even more bountiful future”.

    While the book makes some interesting points, you might have imagined that climate and ecological breakdown, as they present the greatest threat to the optimism that he professes, would be covered in depth. But while he acknowledges their importance, his treatment is remarkably brief, even glib. The only source he cites in support of his main contention on the issue is Bill Gates, whose techno-utopianism and political naivety are notorious among environmentalists.

    Instead of detailed analysis, I found handwaving and magical thinking. Galor claims, without providing the necessary evidence, that “the power of innovation accompanied by fertility decline” may allow us to avoid a difficult choice between economic growth and environmental protection. He asserts that a decline in fertility will buy us the time we need to develop unspecified “revolutionary technologies” that will one day rescue us from the climate crisis. So, rather than encouraging countries to adopt “clean energy technologies and environmental regulations”, we should instead help them further to reduce fertility.

    Just a few problems. While the decline in population growth rates is real enough, it comes far too late to deliver the salvation that Galor anticipates. The most optimistic of current projections, which assumes the deployment of all the measures Galor recommends, sees the global population peaking in 2064, then declining to a little higher than today’s level by 2100. But already, as the current devastating heatwave in India and Pakistan suggests, the conditions required to sustain human life in some parts of the world are at grave risk, while some Earth systems could be approaching their tipping points. If they pass these critical thresholds, and this triggers a cascade of change, the living planet could flip into a state that is largely uninhabitable. There’s likely to be no return from this on any human timescale. The long arc of human history for which Galor claims to have developed a “unified theory” is a mere instant of Earth systems’ time.

    Photo by Debarchan Chatterjee/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
A man is seen splashing water on his face to escape from severe heatwave in Kolkata, India, on 29 April 2022.

    He also fails to establish a connection between fertility rates and fossil fuel use. There are plenty of countries whose low fertility rates are accompanied by very high fossil fuel consumption: Canada, for instance, has a fertility rate of just 1.5 children for every woman of childbearing age, Russia 1.6, the US, Australia, and China and the UK 1.7. We already possess the technologies required to avoid catastrophe. What’s missing is the political will to deploy them at sufficient speed, and to shutter the legacy industries with which they compete.

    A few days before his book was published in the UK, the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction warned that irrational optimism and a misperception of risk greatly exacerbate our exposure to disaster. The timing was coincidental, but it stands as a direct riposte to his claims. Groundless optimism could be seen as one of the “cultural traits” that, Galor says, help determine the journey of humanity. It leads us not to his “even more bountiful future”, but to a different place altogether.

    His is the latest in a line of books by professional optimists – Gates, Steven Pinker, Matt Ridley – who have failed to grasp the nature of either Earth systems or the political economy that bears upon them. These men are not climate deniers; they are politics deniers. They appear to believe that the transformations necessary to prevent systemic collapse can happen without political pressure or political change. Understandably, the media loves them. Nothing fundamental needs to change, we can sit and wait for technological and demographic shifts and everything will work out in the end. A simple story with a happy ending, telling power what it wants to hear, this is the Disney version of environmental science.

    If we leave these issues to “the market” and other supposedly automatic processes, we can see what will happen. This week, the Guardian is publishing the results of its carbon bomb research. New oil and gas projects, if not stopped, will push global temperatures beyond the limits to which governments claim to have committed us, and are likely to drive Earth systems past their tipping points.

    In other words, only a radical break from business as usual will prevent planetary disaster. This requires the mass mobilization of citizens to demand that their governments stop these projects and keep fossil fuels in the ground. How do we know such protests work? Because if they didn’t, our government would not be planning to ban them. Politics, which means seeking to change the decisions made in our name, is all that stands between us and catastrophe. This is why I see the political deniers as more dangerous now than the climate deniers.

    We need optimism, and there could be some grounds for it, but it must be rooted in political and environmental reality. Fairytales are a threat to life on Earth.

    • George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

    If I had one wish in 2022, it’d be to solve malnutrition. So many kids never develop their brains or bodies fully, even if they get enough calories – globally, nearly one in five kids under the age of five are stunted, and in sub-Saharan Africa the figure is nearly one in three. Those are shocking statistics. Scientists are learning a great deal about the microbiome. Targeted therapies, while still in their infancy, could have an enormous impact on global health one day. So it’s a huge area, and I think we’re on the verge of some breakthroughs there. I also wish we had an HIV vaccine, a TB vaccine, but I’ll still put the solution to malnutrition at the top of my wish list.

    Julian Horton in the Toronto Star, March 28

    We are living in a time of bitter division. With a simple phrase, "COVID isn't over," we can make virtually anyone either roll their eyes or vigorously nod their head. Putting privilege, politics, personal values, and anti-science propaganda aside, how is it possible for people to have such divergent opinions on the same public health emergency?

    As a doctor who is interested both in mindfulness and metacognition — how we think — I spend time helping other clinicians develop a deeper awareness of their own thought processes. This isn't usually a hard sell when you consider
    that most doctors live in fear of making mistakes that will harm patients, and many errors in medicine trace to thought process problems. But one of our greatest cognitive vulnerabilities is the fact that our minds don't necessarily like to think about problems that suggest our safety — or someone else's — is in serious peril. In the face of these types of threats, as with the pandemic, we're all mostly hard-wired with a tendency for our minds to whisper seductively to us, Everything's fine.

    This is one aspect of what is known as the normalcy bias. The normalcy bias can mean we don't even want to talk about the fact that we have a normalcy bias, which can quickly become a problem in the early stages of an emergency — the stage where our choices will make the most dramatic difference. The normalcy bias is so powerful it has to be programmed out of us through a learned skill called situational awareness if we want to respond effectively in an emergency. (As the performance of public health officers across the country suggests, the success of that programming is variable.)

    In medicine, there are two questions that are protective against cognitive error: "What else could this be?" and "How do I know that?" The key is applying these questions to counter the normalcy bias, not to give it a boost. Politicians and pundits often make these queries, but the purpose of their inquiry isn't to flush out their own errors — it's to undermine anything that doesn't support their normalcy bias. And when that lack of insight is compounded by the absence of humility, those politicians can — and often do — usher citizens headfirst into danger. Can we ever break free from those limitations?

    One night last week, one of my sons appeared at my bedroom door, whispering that he couldn't sleep. We went to sit on the sofa, and he shared that he had been ruminating on mortality — what happens after we die; whether we are reincarnated. "I don't know what to think about it," he confessed to me quietly. "I told my friends we can only understand what we've experienced. That's all we can really know, and we're limited by it because it shapes all our ideas."

    Long after he had fallen asleep, I kept thinking about the wisdom in his words. If we haven't experienced something ourselves — or if we didn't train specifically to respond to it — we won't be inclined to recognize it until it's too late. We always say that history repeats itself, but perhaps it would be better to internalize the idea that history doesn't announce that it is about to
    repeat itself — just as it never waits for our permission to do so.

    "Could something like the war in Ukraine ever happen here?" my son asked me before he finally fell asleep.

    I hesitated — but I want him to be able to properly assess all of life's real threats, so I told him the truth. Yes, I said, it could. Someday it might be because people often misread the degree of a threat. And as with the pandemic, not one country in the world should be arrogant enough to think it could never happen to them.

    But I made him agree to let me do the worrying about it for him. I want at least one of us to be able to sleep at night.


    Beth Lawless in the Toronto Star

    I am driving home from the Grocery store, where I have just dropped an eye-watering amount of money on the week's groceries. I am frustrated with the empty shelves which means I must once again go without an ingredient I've been missing for weeks and trying not to look at the gas gauge or think about the price displayed at the last gas station I passed. But for all our attempts to carry on in the wake of COVID, one thing becomes increasingly hard to deny: the status quo cannot withstand the coming storm.

    And make no mistake, a storm is coming. The assault on our supply chains brought about by COVID lockdowns and the invasion of Ukraine are nothing compared to the stresses that climate change will bring. These are stresses that will shape the fundamentals of our society and we cannot face them without taking a good hard look in the mirror. Change is coming whether we mitigate climate change or not, and I don't that's a bad thing.

    Technology alone cannot save us. Look at where we are today, the most technologically advanced our society has ever been, but we are far from being some techno-utopia. Improvements to our quality of life have failed to match pace with the speed of technological growth. In recent years advancements in many areas have created more problems than they have solved. Why should we believe that more technology can get us out of this mess, especially when the technology we already need is tied up behind snarled supply chains and shipping delays?

    The environment and capitalism have never been able to coexist. At its heart, climate change is capitalism's monster. Industrialization built it and globalization sped it up, And like a good horror movie trope, the monster will devour its creator.
    Capitalism's model of increasing profit growth cannot be sustained when supply chain disruptions force costs ever higher. Governments will need to increasingly step in as extreme weather events make it harder to maintain the serpentine supply chains that wrap around the globe.

    Extreme measures will be needed to save us from the crushing inflation and societal disruption that will follow. For nations like Canada, which are dependent on foreign food imports for several months of the year, placing unwavering faith in a system that is increasingly stressed seems like a bad idea.

    Granted, I am a millennial, and like many millennials, I believe we have been sold the snake oil of our future. Beyond my generation's usual gripes about education leading to a good job and the costs of housing, I feel the society we have created is little more than a make-work project that benefits the rich and kills the planet. I look at our long work hours, increasing income inequality, materialistic obsession, and societal division and I fail to see how this is a society that should be preserved under glass or put up on a pedestal. A society can only survive life's challenges if it shows .itself to be willing to grow and too often we go to great pains to maintain a life that we don't actually want.

    You may write me off as idealistic, but at the end of the day, we were told that living in a first-world, technologically advanced society would look very different from how it does and I am sad that so many of us have lost sight of that. As we are faced with the crushing weight of inflation, we are also provided a once-in-a-lifetime chance. We have been told to accept the status quo, but climate change is not capable of such acceptance, and really, in my heart of heart, neither am I.

    Our way of life is going to change. Like all big changes, it is not always going to be pleasant. We can choose to take charge and create the lives we were once promised, or we can let change happen to us, knowing
    we may not like where it leads.


    By Justin Ling, The Guardian

    Protesters gather near the parliament hill as truckers continue to protest in Ottawa. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
    Protesters gather near the parliament hill as truckers continue to protest in Ottawa. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

    Thousands of demonstrators have successfully occupied Canada’s frigid capital for days, and say they plan on staying as long as it takes to thwart the country’s vaccine requirements.

    The brazen occupation of Ottawa came as a result of unprecedented coordination between various anti-vaccine and anti-government organizations and activists, and has been seized on by similar groups around the world.

    It may herald the revenge of the anti-vaxxers.

    The so-called “freedom convoy” – which departed for Ottawa on 23 January – was the brainchild of James Bauder, an admitted conspiracy theorist who has endorsed the QAnon movement and called Covid-19 “the biggest political scam in history”. Bauder’s group, Canada Unity, contends that vaccine mandates and passports are illegal under Canada’s constitution, the Nuremberg Code and a host of other international conventions.

    Bauder has long been a fringe figure, but his movement caught a gulf stream of support after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last year that truckers crossing the US-Canada border would need to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The supposed plight of the truckers proved to be a compelling public relations angle and attracted an array of fellow travelers.

    Until now, a litany of organizations had protested Canada’s strict public health measures, but largely in isolation. One such group, Hold Fast Canada, had organized pickets of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s headquarters, where they claimed that concentration camps had already been introduced in the country.

    Another group, Action4Canada, launched legal challenges to mask and vaccine mandates. In one 400-page court filing, they allege that the “false pronouncement of a Covid-19 ‘pandemic’” was carried out, at least in part, by Bill Gates and a “New World (Economic) Order” to facilitate the injection of 5G-enabled microchips into the population.

    Both groups are listed as “participating groups” on the Canada Unity website, and sent vehicles and personnel to join the convoy.

    Other organizers joined Bauder, including Chris Barber, a Saskatchewan trucker who was fined $14,000 in October for violating provincial public health measures; Tamara Lich, an activist for a fringe political party advocating that Western Canada should become an independent state; Benjamin Dichter, who has warned of the “growing Islamization of Canada”; and Pat King, an anti-government agitator who has repeatedly called for Trudeau to be arrested.

    Since they have arrived in Ottawa, the extreme elements of the protest have been visible: neo-Nazi and Confederate flags were seen flying, QAnon logos were emblazoned on trucks and signs and stickers were pasted to telephone poles around the occupied area bear Trudeau’s face, reading: “Wanted for crimes against humanity.”

    The official line from Bauder and his co-organizers, however, has remained focused; in a Facebook live broadcast, Bauder instructed his supporters to “stop talking about the vaccine” and instead stick to the message of “freedom”.

    Such strict message control has attracted mainstream support. Numerous members of the Conservative party, Canada’s official opposition, have come out to meet the protesters. Elon Musk and Donald Trump have both endorsed the convoy. Fox broadcasters Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson have provided glowing updates on the continuing occupation.

    Bauder vowed the convoy would camp out in Ottawa until their demands are met, insisting to his followers that a “memorandum of understanding” would force the government’s hand, possibly even triggering fresh elections, if enough people sign.

    A Canada Unity organizer went further, saying it would require the Senate to “go after the prime minister” for “corruption” and “fascism”. There is no legal basis for those claims.

    King has laid out a more direct plan of action to the occupiers: “What we want to focus on is our politicians, their houses, their locations,” he said in a January Facebook stream. If political pressure doesn’t work, King said, blocking major supply chains “will be later on”.

    Soon after, the head of security for Parliament issued an extraordinary warning to Members of Parliament to avoid the protest entirely, for their own safety.

    The occupiers have deliberately made life difficult for anyone in Ottawa’s downtown core. Trucks have been laying on their air horns throughout the day, often well into the early morning hours. An Ottawa court granted an injunction Monday afternoon, ordering that the honking must cease.

    In the shadow of Parliament, a flatbed truck was converted into a stage – functioning as a speaker’s corner during the day, where far-right politicians and occupiers took the microphone to decry Trudeau and Covid vaccines. At night, the stage functions as a DJ booth for raucous dance parties.

    Technology has made the occupation even easier: drivers share information on routes and the best ways to evade police barricades via the walkie talkie app Zello. Organizers in other cities use the secure messaging app Telegram to share information, coordinate messaging and plan solidarity protests.

    The occupiers now have the resources to stay for an extended period of time: they have raised more than C$6mthrough various crowdfunding platforms, in cash and Bitcoin, despite having been booted from GoFundMe’s platform after raising over C$10m.

    The Ottawa occupation is proof that a few thousand determined protesters can overwhelm police and shut down major cities with enough vehicles and coordination. Solidarity convoys have already shut down the busy Coutts border crossing between Alberta and Montana, strained police resources in Toronto and Quebec City, and activists as far away as Helsinki, Canberra, London, and Brussels have taken not. On the convoy channels, protestors warn this is just the beginning.

    – by McKenzie Porter (MACLEAN’S Magazine – July 16, 1960) from their archives. McKenzie Porter died in 2006

    This is a candid portrait of the hundred-million-dollar boom town that was built on uranium—the mineral with sex appeal— and of the mesmerized thousands who learned the hard way that it was just another mining camp after all

    ELLIOT LAKE IS the most elaborate mining camp ever built, and until recently it was the luckiest. Although it is buried in the northern Ontario bush, half way between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, it looks like a metropolitan suburb.

    Moose, bears and wolves peep nervously down from majestic heights of rock and pine upon a hundred million dollars’ worth of fluorescent lights, crescent streets, split-level homes, three – story apartment blocks, cantilevered shopping plazas, breeze-way schools, wide-screen movie theatres, picture-window hotels, functional churches, a lakeshore community centre and the finest hospital north of Lake Huron.

    Ed Gibbons, a former editor of the Elliot Lake Standard, once described the town as “a frontier monument to the architectural theories of Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright,” and he spoke more in wonder than in jest.

    Ever since the town was founded, six years ago, most of the twenty-five thousand Elliot Lakers have been among the best-paid workers in Canada, and for the past three years they’ve been among the best housed. They’ve luxuriated in all the comforts of city life, as well as the pleasures of hunting, fishing, sailing, swimming, skating and skiing within ten minutes’ drive of home.

    But their balmy days are over.

    Elliot Lake was built to meet a boom. There was never any guarantee that the boom would last, and now Elliot Lake faces a bust. A third of its nine thousand miners have been laid off, and the rest will probably lose their jobs in stages over the next six years. Every day moving vans roll out of town. By the end of this year, local merchants say, retail turnover will be down by eighty percent. By 1966, unless an economic miracle intervenes, Elliot Lake may well be the handsomest ghost town on earth.

    Why did the builders of Elliot Lake sink so much money in a mining camp? Because, as they readily admit today, they were mesmerized by the propaganda of the atomic age. Barry Allen, a Toronto businessman whose companies could lose the two million dollars they’ve invested in hotels, theatres and stores, says: “We were sucked in by the magic of the word uranium.”

    Elliot Lake sits on the largest known deposit of uranium ore in the Western world and, as every schoolboy knows, uranium is the fuel for atomic energy, man’s most modern and widely publicized source of power. The ore body was discovered in 1953 by Franc Joubin, a Toronto prospector, and staked in dramatic secrecy by geologists working for Joseph Hirshhorn, a New York mining promoter. At that time the American stockpilers of cold war atomic weapons were devouring uranium as cats devour cream.

    Joubin and Hirshhorn are reputed to have cleared eleven million and thirty million dollars respectively by selling part of their ore interests to mining, companies. After the sales Hirshhorn said exultantly: “Uranium! It’s like sex! It’s got glamour!”

    His enthusiasm was infectious. From all over North America and Europe miners were drawn to Elliot Lake by the news that the mining companies had received orders from the United States for more than a billion dollars worth of uranium. The ore was to be delivered over the five-year period between 1957 and 1962.

    A few experts believed that American demand for Canadian uranium would continue after 1962, for the development of peaceful atomic power. But last November the United States Atomic Energy Commission decided not to take up its post-1962 Canadian uranium options—and Elliot Lake, which produces sixty-eight percent of Canadian uranium and twenty-four percent of world output, was pole-axed.

    The mining companies, dominated by Britain’s titanic Rio Tinto Mining Company of Canada Ltd., and including such other giants as Consolidated Denison Mines Ltd. and Can-Met Explorations Ltd., were relatively unperturbed. They had known since 1953 that the volume of uranium sales beyond 1962 was unpredictable. But they didn’t care. They were protected. The U. S. five year contracts were designed to guarantee them the return of their three-hundred-million-dollar investment in the mines plus a reasonable profit.

    Nor were most of the working miners shocked or surprised, either at losing their jobs or at Elliot Lake’s misfortune. Accustomed to highly paid jobs of short duration in frontier country, the miners had never anticipated permanent residence.

    But the camp followers — the technicians, clerical workers, professional men, storekeepers, hoteliers, amusement caterers, restaurateurs, and others — had been betting on the idea that the uranium boom would go on forever. These were the people who bought homes and businesses in Elliot Lake. And, generally speaking, these are the only groups in Elliot Lake that today are facing a crippling financial loss.

    What led them to overestimate Elliot Lake’s future? They contracted the contagious optimism of the Canadian federal government and the Ontario provincial government.

    In 1955, when the mine shafts were being sunk, the campsite teemed with miners and construction men who lived in tents, bunkhouses and shacks. Under these primitive conditions labor turnover was naturally high; in one particular month the average job changed hands three times. The mining companies decided that the only way to secure a stable labor force and to fulfill their ore contracts on time was to make decent provision in Elliot Lake for employees’ wives and families.

    The mining companies therefore approached the provincial and federal governments for help in building roads and dwellings. Robert M. Winters, president of the Rio Tinto Mining Company (who was, in 1954, a member of the Liberal federal cabinet), says today: “It must be admitted that the help the mining companies received was greater than they had expected.”

    In 1954 Ontario’s Department of Planning and Development designed a town site on the most modern architectural lines. During the following three years the provincial government invested nineteen million dollars in an approach highway, paved streets, sewers, water mains, lighting and other municipal facilities.

    Don Taylor, the department’s chief planner, says: “Everybody knew that uranium was the ore of the future. We did not want to see Elliot Lake grow up as another mining shack town. At that time most people believed that the demand for uranium would be continuous. So we planned a permanent town site.”

    In 1954 the then Liberal federal government decided in principle to advance, through the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, a crown company, forty million dollars in first mortgages on individual dwellings and apartment blocks that were to match in standard the NHA homes of metropolitan areas.

    David B. Mansur, then president of the CMHC, explains: “The decision was made in spite of the fact that the uranium contracts were for five years only. The shadow of 1962 overhung all the negotiations. But there was a big job to be done at Elliot Lake. Uranium was a precious metal in short supply. It was urgently needed for defense. Here was a climate of optimism about its future, a climate induced by news of peaceful nuclear power developments. There was great confidence that the uranium contracts would be renewed or that other industrial developments in Elliot Lake would justify the cost of the housing. CMHC took a calculated risk.”

    Even as the bulldozers and mechanical shovels worked during 1954-57, many economists urged caution on the builders. They pointed out that uranium mines were being discovered in the United States, South Africa and four other countries, and that Elliot Lake’s distinction as the Western world’s biggest single source of supply might soon lose commercial importance.

    They emphasized the fact that oil wells were gushing in countries all around the globe, that tremendous strides were being made in the long-distance piping of natural gas, and that remaining hydro-electric resources in North America were fast being exploited. Because all these sources still provided a kilowatt hour of power more cheaply than nuclear fission, the development of peaceful atomic energy was being delayed. In consequence the demand for uranium would soon dwindle, for a time at least.

    The most optimistic economists said that peaceful atomic energy would not be in widespread use until 1970. The more pessimistic put the date at 1980. All agreed that if the Americans did not resume their uranium contracts after 1962, Elliot Lake would be threatened with a period of between eight and eighteen years in mothballs.

    But the Canadian federal government and the Ontario provincial government decided to ignore the voices of caution. The businessmen who followed the boom to Elliot Lake, elated by profits and fascinated by local bustle, deemed the economists to be suffering from what they called “the five-year phobia.” So up went eighteen hundred model homes and five hundred city-type apartments.

    Up went six primary schools, one high school, a liquor store, and a police station. A three-million-dollar hospital and a quarter-million-dollar post office were among many projects to follow at public expense.

    Jack Wellard, northern supervisor for Premier Operating Corporation Ltd., a company that spent a quarter of a million dollars on two movie houses, says: “The heavy investments by the two governments convinced businessmen that nothing could go wrong. We entered Elliot Lake with faith in the future.”

    So up, too, went three spanking new hotels with thirty bedrooms apiece and plush beer parlors. Up went a hundred stores and seventy service-industry buildings worth a total of twelve million dollars. Up went nine churches, a television station, a radio station, a newspaper printing plant and the community centre given by Franc Joubin and Joseph Hirshhorn.

    By 1957, when the first uranium orders were delivered, there were five service stations, six taxi companies, five banks, and forty-odd retailers. The T. Eaton Company and Simpsons-Sears Ltd. opened order offices. The Hudson’s Bay Company put up a large department store. Blahcy’s an aggressive north country food chain, put up the town’s biggest supermarket. Fourteen doctors, three dentists, two chiropractors, two optometrists, five chartered accountants, five insurance brokers, and three real estate agents hung out their shingles.

    Even the hard-headed mining companies, operating pits at distances of between three and fifteen miles from the town, were carried away by the aura of permanence — of chrome, foam rubber and concealed lighting. The office block at one mine was fitted with doors of beaten bronze.

    Even so. the distinction between the skepticism of the mining community and the hopefulness of the trades people today is clearly visible at the ten giant head frames. Around most of them stand trailer parks. As late as last May, when many laid-off miners had already left town there, were still two thousand trailers in Elliot Lake, the majority of them owned by underground workers.

    Many other miners were living in bunkhouses or rented rooms. At one mine employing seven hundred workers sixty percent of the men were classified as “single status.” This meant they were either unmarried or, although married, were living in Elliot Lake alone and sending money to families in other towns.

    Last May, Bernice Mondoux, whose husband Val stands to lose a $700-a month job as an underground shift boss, explained the mining family’s philosophy: “We come from Cobalt. We’ve always been miners. My father works underground here.

    My husband’s father was killed in a mine. My husband goes from job to job. He goes after the big money in the bush. I follow him when we can find a proper place for the children, like here. But if we can’t, I live in Cobalt or some other place and see him as often as he can get home. When we first came to Elliot Lake we had a trailer. Now we rent this little house from the mining company. But buy a house and settle down? No sir!

    “We never expected things to last in Elliot Lake. Things never do last in the mining business.”

    Two thirds of the eighteen hundred permanent homes in Elliot Lake were bought initially by the mining companies, which then resold them to employees. Most of them are occupied by surface workers. These workers got into the houses fairly easily. The mining companies advanced second mortgages on the homes, thus reducing down payments to between six hundred and a thousand dollars.

    The mining companies also included in the contract a buy-back clause. Under this they agreed to buy back at cost price, less depreciation, the home of any employee who chose to leave their service. Thus the average laid-off underground worker, quitting his rented premises or departing in his trailer, and the average laid-off surface worker, exercising his buy-back rights, loses little capital when he pulls out of Elliot Lake.

    There are exceptions, of course. Clyde Olmsted, a mining draftsman, is one. When he went to Elliot Lake in 1958, to join the Stanleigh mine, now in jeopardy, Olmsted’s employers had no homes available. So he bought one of the Elliot Lake homes that were put up by speculative builders (about a third of the houses in town). When he lost his job he was stuck with a twelve-thousand-dollar home he couldn’t rent or sell.

    When I saw him in May he was living on his savings and hoping that CMHC would let him off the mortgage hook. He was willing to write off his down payment and monthly mortgage payments as “an unfortunately high rent.” He had only one alternative: to send the keys to CMHC and tell them he was backing out of his agreement.

    “I know about ten other guys in my position,” he said, “and that’s what they’ve done. But what will happen? Their credit will be bust and they’ll never get another NHA loan. I might want to buy again sometime so I’m not walking out yet.”

    Olmsted’s predicament is shared by some six hundred other home owners who bought from independent builders. They are nearly all the owners of commercial premises or the employees of service industries, and they are the real victims of the Elliot Lake bust.

    They had hoped to make big money in Elliot Lake but few did. In 1954-57 the commercial interests competed so hard for sites that land prices soared. When commercial lots in Elliot Lake were auctioned by the provincial government in January, 1955, an oil company paid ten thousand dollars for a service station site, the same amount it paid at about the same time for a site of similar dimensions on Yonge Street in North Toronto.

    The Ontario Department of Planning and Development, anxious to develop an attractive town and start drawing taxes, enforced rigorous zoning laws and building standards on storekeepers. “Originally” says Jack Wellard, “a good many of in operated in temporary buildings which served their purpose but the provincial government’s regulations forced us to make large investments in permanent buildings or get out.”

    Living costs are high

    All these elements, plus long distance transport costs, raised investments above even big-city levels, Jack Elliott, general manager of a tire depot, says: “Despite the four-year boom most of the commercial people are having a tough time paying off heavy mortgages.”

    High taxes also offset profits. Ed Gibbons, who recently lost his job as editor of the Elliot Lake Standard, a weekly that now loses money, pays nearly four hundred dollars a year in taxes on an eleven-thousand-dollar home. This is almost twice the amount paid by many metropolitan suburban owners on homes of the same value.

    Rents are equally high. In the mine owned apartments they run from $110 a month for a one-bedroom suite to $135 a month for a three-bedroom suite. Hotel rooms are ten dollars a night, or the same price as some single rooms in Toronto’s Royal York. According to Earl Marshall, an insurance assessor who moved from Toronto to Elliot Lake three years ago, living costs are “much higher than they are in the city.”

    The long haul by truck puts food prices up. Most of the town’s milk comes from Manitoulin Island, seventy miles away. Moreover, Marshall points out that the Elliot Lake residential zones are two miles from the shopping plazas and up to fifteen miles from the various mines. “There are no bus services,” he says, “so everybody simply has to have a car. Housewives whose husbands use the family car to travel to work often go shopping in taxis. Drivers charge a Hat rate of a dollar for a one-way trip between residential zone and shopping plaza.

    As a result saving is difficult. Reginald Clark, an Elliot Lake clothier, said recently: “We are a community with wall-to-wall carpeting and back-to-the-wall financing.” Many tradesmen already have left, among them Harry Landy, who is now operating a Toronto gift shop. He lost sixteen thousand dollars in an Elliot Lake furniture store.

    Burdened with heavy debts and diminishing turnover, the Elliot Lake businessmen are in a state of panic. The Canadian government has fought for time for them by persuading the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission to accept outstanding deliveries of uranium until 1966. But this merely means a “stretchout” of the delivery rate of the same volume of uranium, and a more gradual decrease in the work force. By 1966 there may be work in Elliot Lake for fewer than a thousand miners, which means that most of the town’s remaining merchants will inevitably go broke.

    The merchants cannot even expect the scanty business that might stem from miners’ unemployment pay. Last May Guy Charron, the manager of the Elliot Lake branch of the National Employment Service, said: “There is no increase here in applications for unemployment insurance. At the moment I have three hundred unemployed on my books, the same number as last Christmas. This means that the unemployed know it is hopeless to look for work here.

    The laid-off workers are getting out of town and drawing unemployment pay elsewhere.” The federal government is exercising regulations which permit the transfer of labor at public expense from depressed areas to areas of full employment. “If an Elliot Lake man finds a job elsewhere.” says Charron, “all he has to do is tell the government that he cannot afford to move his family and furniture and the government will pay the bill.” One laid-off miner told me last May: “The government doesn’t even ask to see your bank account.”

    This practice resulted in an ironic incident last fall. Twelve miners and their families arrived in Elliot Lake at government expense from Bell Island, a depressed iron-mining region of Newfoundland. A few days later the American government decided it would not take up its post-1962 uranium options. The Newfoundlanders discovered that they had been moved from an old ghost town to an incipient new one. Moreover they said they didn’t “feel at home” in Elliot Lake. They packed up and returned to Bell Island where at least they’d be unemployed among friends.

    But most Elliot Lakers like the town, particularly the women, who realize that it is a healthy, safe, and attractive place in which to raise children. Last spring a hundred and thirty-five housewives journeyed to Ottawa and there pleaded with Prime Minister Diefenbaker to find Elliot Lake new enterprises.

    Among “make-work” projects now being pressed upon the provincial and federal governments by Jack Gauthier, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, are: the laying out of a provincial park and tourist attractions: the building of a big school for retarded children; the establishment of a forestry research centre; the construction of a school for army provost officers; and the launching of a campaign to attract highly technical new industries that might one day operate on, nuclear power and benefit from the vast local reserve of uranium.

    Since Elliot Lake is ninety miles from the two nearest industrial centres, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, its prospects of attracting new industries are, according to many economists, dim.

    The mining companies are working to save the town. Robert Winters, president of Rio Tinto, says: “The company’s exploration teams are busy looking for other commercial ore bodies that could be worked from an Elliot Lake base. We have already provided some extra employment by opening a thorium extracting plant and making one of our uranium mines into a copper producer. We are also seeking new uses for uranium.” One new use for uranium, now in the experimental stage, is its application to steel as an anti-rusting element. But neither it nor any other is close to providing revenue or jobs.

    Winters believes that Rio Tinto might be able to employ twenty-five hundred people during the 1962-66 period and so keep alive an Elliot Lake community of about ten thousand. Rio Tinto owns eight hundred of Elliot Lake’s houses and according to Winters “will board up the empty ones and hold on to them until the development of peaceful atomic power brings about an upsurge in the uranium market in the Seventies.”

    Such faith in the future does little to encourage the local merchants. Few could afford to mark time through even a one-year shutdown of the mines. In their desperation, they point out that Elliot Lake was founded in the days of the late Liberal government. They recall that Rio Tinto president Winters was then Minister of Public Works and that Lester B. Pearson, present leader of the opposition, and MP for Algoma East, the Elliot Lake federal constituency, was then Minister for External Affairs.

    They look with suspicion upon the present Conservative federal government’s decision to build a nuclear research centre at Whiteshell, Manitoba, a community standing in a constituency adjacent to that represented by Gordon Churchill, present Minister of Trade and Commerce. The Elliot Lake Standard repeatedly has demanded that this institution be switched to Elliot Lake to help solve its unemployment problem, and repeatedly has hinted that Churchill’s indifference to this suggestion amounts to political retaliation against Winters and Pearson.

    Few experts, however, place much importance on the bitterness and hysteria that is implicit in the political recriminations. Ray Jones, an Elliot Lake mine manager, says: “Elliot Lake was built as a permanent town because the forecasts for the inauguration of peaceful atomic power were inaccurate. We still expect uranium to fill the purposes which were envisaged at the time the forecasts were made. There is nothing wrong with Elliot Lake. Only the timing of its construction was wrong.”

    Dr. Kenneth Walter, a business geographer employed by Imperial Oil Ltd. to chose service station sites in growing communities, says: “In planning new towns diversification of industry should be the keynote. The one-industry town always stands in danger of becoming obsolete, particularly in this era of rapid technological change and shifting consumer demand. If Elliot Lake is added to the long list of Canadian ghost towns it will be because the planners forgot that it never really was a town. It was only a mining camp.”


    A vocal subsect of the anti-vax crowd gets free rein to spew its hate-filled abuse via social media and online.

    Bob Hepburn

    By Bob Hepburn, Star Columnist, Thu., Jan. 27, 2022

    Let’s be blunt: some hard-core anti-vaxxers are among the most abusive, hateful, and obnoxious people in Canada these days.

    That stark statement may surprise many oh-so-polite Canadians who are still hesitant about getting a COVID vaccine shot.

    But they likely are also completely unaware of the obscenity-laced messages hurled by anti-vaxxers on a daily basis at journalists, politicians, healthcare workers, and others who support vaccines and vaccine mandates.

    These are the bullies and foul-mouthed punks we all remember from high school.

    Sadly, this vocal subsect of the anti-vax crowd — militant, extreme libertarians, far-right zealots, anti-government conspiracy theorists — gets free rein to spew its hate-filled abuse via social media and online.

    And it’s time that polite Canadians, who may still be nervous about themselves or their children receiving a COVID vaccine jab, woke up to the reality of the makeup of a significant part of the crowd they are aligned with.

    Over the past few months, I have received countless nasty emails from anti-vaxxers who objected to my comments that I’m fed up with their refusals to be vaccinated and that I believe politicians should adopt get-tough restrictions on the unvaccinated.

    Clearly, more abuse and hate is tossed every day at female and diverse and racialized journalists writing on the same topic than at me. Still, the vehemence of the anti-vaxxers who sent emails to me or made comments on social media is stunning.

    As a courtesy, I asked the email writers if they would let me publish their name, the place where they live, or their workplace if their note was sent from a company email address. Not surprisingly, not a single one agreed.

    “No, you cannot use my email, name, or title in your future or any newspaper columns,” replied the president of a large Toronto-area manufacturing company.

    Here’s a sample of the emails:

    “If I see you on the street I would Smash your face in YOU FU*KING IGNORANT COMMIE,” wrote a person identifying themselves as Sonny.

    “You are a hate-monger and a sad excuse for a journalist. What you are doing is un-Canadian. You are a piece of sh* t,” wrote Rob, who works as a multimedia specialist.

    “You are a menace to society. You have obviously lost your mind and need mental help if you think unvaccinated people are a threat to society. You are deranged,” wrote Nicole from Alberta.

    “This is what causes racism. You have no business knowing what goes in my body. You piece of human waste,” wrote John.

    “God bless your soul if you still even have one,” wrote Diane.

    “You are an arrogant moron,” wrote Dave.

    “Stop spewing hate and writing sh*t articles. Grow a pair and write something useful. Gerbil looking ass,” wrote Brad.

    Other emails, which I won’t or can’t publish because of the vulgar content, contained the most vile comments you can imagine anyone saying to another person. In addition, there’s an array of other comments, from those hoping that I die, or that the Toronto Star folds, to accusations (I laugh at these) that I’m getting large cheques straight from the Trudeau government.

    The attacks against me are actually tame compared to abuse heaped on other journalists, who have received death threats, threats of rape, and threats against their families and homes.

    Frankly, these anti-vaxxers should be ashamed of themselves. Many are out of control.

    Believing they are on a noble mission to protect “personal freedom” and fight “government control,” they harass not only journalists, but doctors, nurses, and politicians. They besiege hospitals, protest outside politicians’ homes, try to intimidate children at vaccination clinics, and spread hate online.

    It’s time to call them out — and it’s time that others who are unvaccinated get to know the type of anti-vaxxers who believe they speak on their behalf

    Bob Hepburn is a Star politics columnist based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @BobHepburn

    Thousands of miles from Dr. Barney Graham’s lab in Bethesda, Md., a frightening new coronavirus had jumped from camels to humans in the Middle East, killing one out of every three people infected. An expert on the world’s most intractable viruses, Dr. Graham had been working for months to develop a vaccine, but had gotten nowhere.

    Now he was terrified that the virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, had infected one of his lab’s own scientists, who was sick with a fever and a cough in the fall of 2013 after a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

    A nose swab came back positive for a coronavirus, seeming to confirm Dr. Graham’s worst fears, only for a second test to deliver relief. It was a mild coronavirus, causing a common cold, not MERS.

    Dr. Graham had a flash of intuition: Perhaps it would be worth taking a closer look at this humdrum cold virus.

    It was an impulse born more of convenience and curiosity than foresight, with little to no expectation of glory or profit. Yet the decision to study a colleague’s bad cold gave rise to critical discoveries. Together with other chance breakthroughs that seemed insignificant at the time, it would lead eventually to the mRNA vaccines now protecting hundreds of millions of people from Covid-19.

    The shots were developed at record speed, arriving just over a year after mysterious pneumonia surfaced in China, while so much else — political feuds, public distrust and botched government planning — went wrong.

    They remain a marvel: Even as the Omicron variant fuels a new wave of the pandemic, the vaccines have proved remarkably resilient at defending against severe illness and death. And the manufacturers, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna, say that mRNA technology will allow them to adapt the vaccines quickly, to fend off whatever dangerous new version of the virus that evolution brings next.

    Skeptics have seized on the rapid development of the vaccines — among the most impressive feats of medical science in the modern era — to undermine the public’s trust in them. But the breakthroughs behind the vaccines unfolded over decades, little by little, as scientists across the world pursued research in disparate areas, never imagining their work would one day come together to tame the pandemic of the century.

    The pharmaceutical companies harnessed these findings and engineered a consistent product that could be made at scale, partly with the help of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s multibillion-dollar program to hasten the development and manufacture of vaccines, drugs and diagnostic tests to fight the new virus.

    For years, though, the scientists who made the vaccines possible scrounged for money and battled public indifference. Their experiments often failed. When the work got too crushing, some of them left it behind. And yet on this unpredictable, zigzagging path, the science slowly built upon itself, squeezing knowledge from failure.

    The vaccines were possible only because of efforts in three areas. The first began more than 60 years ago with the discovery of mRNA, the genetic molecule that helps cells make proteins. A few decades later, two scientists in Pennsylvania decided to pursue what seemed like a pipe dream: using the molecule to command cells to make tiny pieces of viruses that would strengthen the immune system.

    The second effort took place in the private sector, as biotechnology companies in Canada in the budding field of gene therapy — the modification or repair of genes to treat diseases — searched for a way to protect fragile genetic molecules so they could be safely delivered to human cells.

    The third crucial line of inquiry began in the 1990s when the U.S. government embarked on a multibillion-dollar quest to find a vaccine to prevent AIDS. That effort funded a group of scientists who tried to target the all-important “spikes” on H.I.V. viruses that allow them to invade cells. The work has not resulted in a successful H.I.V. vaccine. But some of these researchers, including Dr. Graham, veered from the mission and eventually unlocked secrets that allowed the spikes on coronaviruses to be mapped instead.

    In early 2020, these different strands of research came together. The spike of the Covid virus was encoded in mRNA molecules. Those molecules were wrapped in a protective layer of fat and poured into small glass vials. When the shots went in arms less than a year later, recipients’ cells responded by producing proteins that resembled the spikes — and that trained the body to attack the coronavirus.

    The extraordinary tale proved the promise of basic scientific research: that once in a great while, old discoveries can be plucked from obscurity to make history.

    “It was all in place — I saw it with my own eyes,” said Dr. Elizabeth Halloran, an infectious disease biostatistician at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle who has done vaccine research for over 30 years but was not part of the effort to develop mRNA vaccines. “It was kind of miraculous.”

    By Uzma Jalaluddin Toronto

    Recently, I was bemoaning the aggravations of online and hybrid teaching to my 22-year-old niece Safiyyah Memon. She countered that there have been a lot of net positives to her post-secondary schooling that are a direct result of pandemic life, which surprised me.

    It has been such a difficult few years for educators, I haven’t really stopped to consider the significant ways that schooling has changed from the perspective of students — for better and for worse — as a result of the pandemic.

    It has become increasingly clear that the pandemic’s disruptive influence is accelerating a revolution in education that has been a long time coming. This week I’ll be concentrating on how the pandemic has impacted post-secondary education.

    My niece, a fourth-year economics student at the University of Waterloo, shared how her post-secondary education has improved for the better as a result of pandemic adaptions. For one, lessons have become a lot more flexible and accessible.

    “I’m not fighting for information, struggling to get the bare minimum. When you’re in a class setting, there are so many factors that affect your ability to obtain and retain information. It could be the layout of the class: is there a blackboard, is there a projector? Where are you sitting, are you beside people who are noisy? And if you have a class before, you’re running across campus. These are significant problems, but they are understated, because (it’s assumed) that’s just what being a student is. But I disagree. It’s really just the flaws of the system that are unlikely to be addressed,” Safiyyah said.

    Now, all her instructors post slides, notes, or record lectures, whereas before “a lot of my professors were very conservative with what they provided, in terms of [notes] and supplementary material. Having everything online makes it a lot easier for me. I have access to notes, and I don’t need to worry, I’m able to go through everything. In addition, having online office hours has been a game changer.”

    One of my friends, a university professor in the GTA who didn’t want to be named, agreed that the initial pandemic shutdown forced post-secondary instructors to learn new tech, and to rethink how they were going to teach. “Many of us are creatures of habit,” he shared. “It forced us to present [lessons] in an effective manner.” He has been pre-recording and posting lectures since the start of the pandemic, while synchronous or live classes are used to take up case studies and discussions. Tests are more open-ended questions, with less calculations. His students have responded positively to this model of learning so far.

    Safiyyah noticed an improvement in her academic achievement, a direct result of increased autonomy over her time and learning. “Now I want to learn the concept, I ask questions, so when I’m doing the assignment, it all makes more sense. You now have to use your judgment in a much more critical way.”

    Another thing Safiyyah thinks has changed for the better is a greater acceptance of health concerns. “I think this ties back to another aspect of university that is not spoken about enough: accessibility services and learning challenges that arise because of [poor] mental health.”

    When students would request extensions or exemptions pre-COVID, they were made to jump through hoops to obtain medical notes, which often cost money, and even then, they were presumed to be lying about health challenges, or judged by the lapses and mistakes of others. “I am a student in university, I am paying thousands of dollars, why would people not assume I want to do my best?” she asked.

    That attitude still exists, Safiyyah acknowledged. Not all professors have changed, but there has been a shift toward being more understanding, which she credits with the universal experience of pandemic life. “If it affects everyone, we should be more lenient and compassionate because then that leniency and compassion also extend to us. It’s been a humanizing experience.”

    While individual experiences differ, the seismic changes ushered in by the pandemic have rocked the staid world of education. My next column will focus on the impact some of these changes have had on younger students, who have been impacted differently by online learning, as well as suggestions and predictions for the future of education.

    One thing is clear: school is changing in Ontario and around the world, and there is no sign that things will return to how they used to be; both for better and for worse, education is changing before our eyes.

    Big Pharma is for profit, not people

    Big-time capitalists have rarely lacked a certain hubris. Because they’re good at one thing, usually making money, they think they’re wise in all things. So Henry Ford published “The International Jew: The World's Foremost Problem,” for which he eventually apologized, formally anyway.

    Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO, now has his place in the hubris firmament. He’s glad his firm is making stratospheric profit, but is “even more satisfied when I go into a restaurant and get a standing ovation because everybody feels that we saved the world”

    Winnie Byanyima, who runs the UN program on AIDS, says, “He hasn’t saved the world. He could have done it but he hasn’t.” By depriving Africa of vaccines in order to sate rich countries —- a strategy that has now rebounded on everyone via Omicron — Bourla may even have imperilled the world.

    Anyway, it isn’t Pfizer who created its jabs. It’s the mRNA obsessives at BioNTeeh, who stuck with their vision till Pfizer latched onto them. “It's not even their vaccine,” said a former U.S. official. Getting it known as the Pfizer shot is “the biggest marketing coup in the history of American pharmaceuticals.”

    And if you really want to get into the weeds, who’s actually behind the breakthrough? It would’ve been impossible without math. So who invented math? Ancient Sumerians? Ancient Greeks like Euclid? Ancient Chinese (the decimal system!)? For that matter, who invented language, and metallurgy?

    When you get down to it, what's behind advances like mRNA jabs is the totality of human creativity. The notion that it’s a few mostly Western smart guys and creative geniuses is part of the prevailing mythology of individualism, private property, great artists etc. Put it down, instead, to human creativity. (If I sound a bit nutty here myself, I admit I’ve been obsessing about this for much of my adult life.)

    Business titans like Pfizer can do at least as much harm to humanity as good, due to their blinkered focus on profit and their chokehold on technologies like mRNA. The business press can be adorably childlike on this subject.

    “Ironically,” says one newsletter citing a Peterson Institute maven, “given its impact on the global economy and supply chains, eradicating COVID is not something the market is incentivized to do.” Ironically, my ass. Thats the cold essence of running a humungous corporation.

    The point isn’t that such companies are evil. (They often are, but that’s a separate point.) It’s that they’re vast businesses and will
    usually — no, inevitably — be driven by profit, not humanitarian or ethical considerations, up to and including species extinction. It’s the iron logic of their existence. They literally cannot stop themselves.

    It’s why a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver removing their patent control (though they could still profit via “compulsory licensing”) should be imposed on them by bodies not dominated by profit requirements, i.e., by governments.

    The stakes are vast. Nigeria has 1.7 per cent of its 200 million people vaccinated. Doesn't that scare hell out of you? Nor is it a “mere” matter of deaths. Lives, too, are being blighted, especially among the young. They sense the loss of their youth.

    OK, but in the absence of profit incentives, what could motivate advances like vaccines and their costly development? Well, (to keep the focus narrow) the Salk vaccine for polio wasn’t patented. Why? Jonas Salk felt it belonged to “the people."
    Perhaps he wasn't being a saint, but instead valued the esteem of his fellow humans, or of history. It still worked and polio was eradicated.

    Socialism then? Ugh, if you mean the wretched Soviet version. But I can’t resist quoting Che Guevara, the revolutionary who helped Will Cuba’s freedom. He once addressed an audience that included Marxists who probably felt socialism was as
    unavoidable, due to “material historical” forces as, according to others, the profit motive is. “At the risk of seeming ridiculous,” Che mused, “let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” So there’s that.

    Rick Salutin is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. He is based in Toronto. Reach him at

    Opinion   posted Nov 22, 2021 @ 08:00pm by   Ron Cannan

    Inside Track with Ron Cannan: Why aren't BC doctors free to discuss COVID-19?

    Have you recently come across a news story that had you asking questions? Have you been wondering what really is the other side of the story? Well, I am excited to have the opportunity to try and answer any questions that might be keeping you up at night. Combining my contacts with my personal experiences, I will try to provide you with the rest of the story.

    <who> Photo Credit: ContributedPhoto Credit: Contributed

    No matter what your position is on the COVID-19 vaccine, I thought this was a very interesting question considering the fact that if you watch the evening news and switch between stations, they almost all have the same story when it comes to COVID-19. Having worked in the media industry for several years and being involved in government for almost two decades, I know that today’s news services are more centrally controlled, censored and concentrated into a handful of different owners.

    If an individual has an open mind, does some research and a little critical thinking, it has become quite obvious that there are many well educated and accomplished doctors, scientists, medical researchers, right here in BC, and around the world, who have compiled documents upon documents providing factual evidence challenging the government’s COVID-19 vaccine narrative.

    As a former Member of Parliament, who attended Health Committee meetings in Ottawa, I can say that most politicians don’t have the expertise to make these difficult policy decisions and thus rely on medical professionals such as members of the various College of Physicians and Surgeons, Universities and scientific researchers.

    To try and answer today’s question as to why these educated individuals are not allowed to share this information, I reached out to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (CPSBC).

    However, before I share their response, I thought it would be helpful to provide some background information and a quick review of history. This is important as the CPSBC, politicians and the media often make reference to a phrase “widely accepted scientific evidence.” This is really a point in time as new scientific evidence is being provided to us virtually daily; especially on the topic of COVID-19.

    For example, in the 1950s, the Department of National Health and Welfare had no research capacity on the chemistry of tobacco and tobacco smoke. Capacity would be developed over the years, but it would never catch up to the tobacco industry. In 1954, the Canadian tobacco companies gave money for cancer research to the National Cancer Institute of Canada, but said nothing about it publicly until 1963. There were numerous scientists and technicians doing the research back in the 1950s and 60s who indicated that tobacco use was safe.

    However, over time, other researchers determined how smoking causes cancer and revealed much different results about the harmful effects of tobacco use. Government officials were making decisions based on “widely accepted scientific evidence” at the time. However, as new research about how tobacco use causes cancer was discovered, the government was forced to change their policies.

    Could you imagine if the strong tobacco lobby industry of the day was able to withhold this damaging information from the public? Similar to what some feel the powerful pharmaceutical companies are doing today with regards to COVID research information.

    As a member of the Government of Canada’s finance and international trade committees, I received numerous invites from the pharmaceutical industry to attend special events and requests to meet often. The pharmaceutical industry is a strong, powerful and effective lobby organization in North America.

    Can you imagine if you owned a company and the government issued you a multi-billion-dollar contract to produce a product and have total immunity from liability if something goes wrong with your product (i.e., vaccine)? You won the lottery my friend!

    More than 60 years after the drug thalidomide caused birth defects in thousands of children whose mothers took the drug while pregnant, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Ma. recently solved a mystery that has lingered ever since the dangers of the drug first became apparent: how did the drug produce such severe fetal harm? Thalidomide was being administered by medical professionals of the day based on “widely accepted scientific evidence” at the time. New information isn’t always misinformation, and in this case, it changed everything going forward.

    Look at breast cancer treatment. For years, doctors were doing mastectomies. Now with new “widely accepted scientific evidence,” under certain circumstances, people with breast cancer have the opportunity to choose between total removal of a breast (mastectomy) and breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) followed by radiation. Lumpectomy followed by radiation is likely to be equally as effective as mastectomy for people with only one site of cancer in the breast and a tumour under four centimetres. Clear margins are also a requirement (no cancer cells in the tissue surrounding the tumour). This came about from scientific research and doctors' personal experiences with breast cancer patients. Just think if doctors/scientists/researchers were not allowed to share this new information then many women today would still be having entire breasts removed when often the case is not necessary.

    Some folks may recall in the early 1980s, when the blood supply was determined as safe by widely accepted scientific evidence. About 2,000 Canadians were infected with HIV from tainted blood products. Many thousand more, perhaps as many as 30,000, were infected with hepatitis C. Although AIDS was first reported in Canada on March 27, 1982, it took three years for the Canadian Red Cross Society, which administered the nation’s blood donation system, to start screening for HIV. My mother had surgery and had blood transfusions during the 80s and in July, 1989, both my parents were diagnosed HIV-positive. Both died of AIDS. My mother passed away on Nov. 24, 1989 at the young age of 60 and my dad on Sept. 24, 1993 at the age of 65 (after living on the experimental drug AZT for a few years).

    The decisions the medical professionals made at that time and the information that was provided to my three brothers and myself was considered “widely accepted scientific evidence.” However, new medical research and information has been made available and shared with other doctors and people are now living longer and healthier lives as a result.

    I mention this only to reinforce the fact that whatever your position is on vaccines, medical professionals, locally and globally, are witnessing firsthand the adverse effects of COVID vaccine mandates. However, they are not able to freely share this information with their patients and the public without a threat to continuing their professional medical practice.

    This reminds me of when we were in government, Prime Minister Stephen Harper was accused by the mainstream media of muzzling scientists. Journalists, scientists and government media officials all concluded that the complaints were “well founded.” In the future, open science communication should be allowed and the media should provide more investigative journalism and objective reporting to the public.

    Well folks, how do you think the media and the present government are doing on both of these fronts today?

    Now back to today’s question, I asked you to please read carefully the wording of the reply I received from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC which states: “If a College registrant deviates in practice from widely held scientific evidence as it relates to patient care, in the event of a complaint, they would be held accountable and may be required to defend their decision in front of their peers on an Inquiry Committee. We couldn’t assume to know what action the Inquiry Committee would take as each case is heard and judged independently.”

    There you go, folks. If a doctor decides to share their personal experiences and speak out against the public health officer’s vaccine mandate, then they might have to meet with a few of their peers to provide their evidence. Of course, the unknown is what is going to happen behind these closed doors as this isn’t a totally open and transparent process. How can the doctor provide this “widely held scientific evidence” if the CPPBC doesn’t allow doctors to share this latest information?

    The anonymous communication spokesperson for the CPSBC went on to say: “The College’s mandate is public protection. It isn’t an advocacy group for College registrants. Vaccine mandates are issued by the PHO and not the College. The College supports all orders and directives of the Public Health Officer (PHO) as it relates to vaccine.”

    So basically whatever Dr. Bonnie Henry says, the CPSBC does!

    Interesting in that if the CPSBC mandate is really about public protection, then why are they not keen on hearing from BC doctors as to what they are experiencing firsthand from their patients with regards to adverse reactions to the vaccines and the vaccine mandate? Maybe there should be more than the present limit on exemptions for people who have serious health reasons for not getting the vaccine?

    The reason is that the College does what Dr. Bonnie Henry states. Not taking anything away from Dr. Henry; however, she is an unelected bureaucrat who is appointed by the government. This all seems like a very convenient way for Health Minister Hon. Adrian Dix and the government to “muzzle” doctors in BC.

    The College will tell you that they have an open call process that is fair and transparent for the Board Director appointments. However, I served three years as Director for a BC Board. When my appointment came up for renewal, I received a call from the NDP government staff member who was overseeing Board appointments and told me that she appreciated my work on the Board. However, new Board Directors were being appointed based on skin colour, gender, ethnicity and Aboriginal identity. Nothing to do with merit! I am not a member of a provincial political party so I am sure that didn’t help either, in this fair and transparent appointment process!

    I was also advised by CPSBC that Doctors of BC is the association that advocates for physicians in this province. So, I approached Doctors of BC to see what they are doing to support their members who are against the vaccine mandate. I was quickly advised by Brent Weiss, who is their regional advisor and advocate, that he will be meeting with the Interior Health Authority next week to determine a process for those physicians that are choosing to remain unvaccinated. Will be watching closely to see how effective their advocacy is. This week I had doctors contact me and share letters they received this week from Interior Health Authority stating that they can no longer tend to their patients who are located in IHA facilities (i.e., long term care homes, KGH, etc).

    One doctor I spoke to teaches at UBC and they are not required to be vaccinated (just rapid testing as required). However, this person also teaches UBC medical students at KGH and is now not allowed to teach the students without being vaccinated. This doctor also has their own practice with 20 years’ experience. Another BC doctor I spoke to is Dr. Steve Pelech. Dr. Pelech has over 33 years’ experience as UBC professor, medical researcher and President CSO (Chief Scientific Officer) of a bio-tech company. Here is a link to his bio.

    Dr. Pelech is near the end of his career so he is not afraid to speak the truth without facing ramifications from his association. Actually, Dr. Pelech stated that more and more of his peers are now approaching him and sharing firsthand information as to what is happening to patients in BC and across Canada. Dr. Pelech is the Chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Canadian Covid Care Alliance. They represent over 1,000 members, comprised of physicians, research scientists (including virologists, vaccinologists and immunologists) and others, including highly accomplished professors from top Canadian universities, allied healthcare professionals, and lawyers from across Canada, who have serious concerns with respect to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in this country.

    I don’t like needles; however, I am not against them. Actually, I think I might have had more things poked in me than a pincushion. As a former Member of Parliament serving on the International Trade Committee for almost ten years, I travelled to several countries around the world. My wife and I also travelled to rural parts of Russia and Brazil on missions’ trip so we had numerous vaccinations. Most recently got my double jab of the shingles vaccine.

    Dr. Pelech said: "Any of the group members are afraid to share their names as there could be serious personal consequences (i.e. loss of their licence). These doctors and scientists are being muzzled."

    I think we all should be asking questions as to why all these doctors and medical researchers, who are providing factual and verifiable references, are not allowed to speak freely regarding this “widely held scientific evidence”?

    Remember when Stephen Harper was accused of muzzling the scientists?

    Why is the mainstream media now not providing balanced reporting and asking these tough questions to provincial and federal governments of today? Why are they deciding to choose which science they want to report on?

    As Dr. Pelech said to me: “This is an information war and the media have helped to create a state of mass psychosis and fear in our society. The media want to keep pushing the sensationalism as they are generating good ad revenue as well as several mainstream media companies are receiving financial support from our federal government (that is our tax money paying the mainstream media).”

    Seems like this vaccine mandate has more to do with politics than science. Politicians often want to be seen as doing something and are often ineffective as they are too entrenched in the situation.

    I can say that as I have been there, done that!

    This is an opinion column by Ron Cannan, who served as Kelowna–Lake Country MP from 2006 to 2015 and on Kelowna City Council from 1996 to 2005. It contains only his own views – and not necessarily those of KelownaNow or its staff. If you would like to submit a letter to KelownaNow about this column, or about any other topic, write to

    Official advice about COVID-19 vaccinations is available from Health Canada here and the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control here.

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    Few willing to change lifestyle to save the planet, climate survey finds

    Guardian exclusive: poll of 10 countries including US, UK, France and Germany finds people prioritising measures that are already habits

    Jon Henley@jonhenley Sun 7 Nov 2021 16.28 GMT

    Citizens are alarmed by the climate crisis, but most believe they are already doing more to preserve the planet than anyone else, including their government, and few are willing to make significant lifestyle changes, an international survey has found.

    “The widespread awareness of the importance of the climate crisis illustrated in this study has yet to be coupled with a proportionate willingness to act,” the survey of 10 countries including the US, UK, France and Germany, observed.

    Emmanuel Rivière, director of international polling at Kantar Public, said the survey, carried out in late September and published to coincide with the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, contained “a double lesson for governments”.

    They have, first, “to measure up to people’s expectations,” Rivière said. “But they also have to persuade people not of the reality of the climate crisis – that’s done – but of what the solutions are, and of how we can fairly share responsibility for them.”

    The survey found that 62% of people surveyed saw the climate crisis as the main environmental challenge the world was now facing, ahead of air pollution (39%), the impact of waste (38%) and new diseases (36%).

    A young person reaches for an inflated globe during a ‘Fridays for Future’ protest in Muenster, north-west Germany.
    ‘I get scared’: the young activists sounding the alarm from climate tipping points
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    But when asked to rate their individual action against others’ such as governments, business and the media, people generally saw themselves as much more committed to the environment than others in their local community, or any institution.

    About 36% rated themselves “highly committed” to preserving the planet, while only 21% felt the same was true of the media and 19% of local government. A mere 18% felt their local community was equally committed, with national governments (17%) and big corporations (13%) seen as even less engaged.

    Respondents were also lukewarm about doing more themselves, citing a wide range of reasons. Most (76%) of those surveyed across the 10 countries said they would accept stricter environmental rules and regulations, but almost half (46%) felt that there was no real need for them to change their personal habits.

    Only 51% said they would definitely act to protect the planet, with 14% saying they would definitely not and 35% torn. People in Poland and Singapore (56%) were the most willing to act, and in Germany (44%) and the Netherlands (37%) the least.

    The most common reasons given for not being willing to do more for the planet were “I feel proud of what I am currently doing” (74%), “There isn’t agreement among experts on the best solutions” (72%), and “I need more resources and equipment from public authorities” (69%).

    Other reasons for not wanting to do more included “I can’t afford to make those efforts” (60%), “I lack information and guidance on what to do” (55%), “I don’t think individual efforts can really have an impact” (39%), “I believe environmental threats are overestimated” (35%) and “I don’t have the headspace to think about it” (33%).

    Asked which actions to preserve the planet should be prioritised, moreover, people attributed more importance to measures that were already established habits, required less individual effort, or for which they bore little direct responsibility.

    About 57%, for example, said that reducing waste and increasing recycling was “very important”. Other measures seen as priorities were reversing deforestation (54%), protecting endangered animal species (52%), building energy-efficient buildings (47%), and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy (45%).

    Respondents viewed measures likely to affect their own lifestyles, however, as significantly less important: reducing people’s energy consumption was seen as a priority by only 32%, while favouring public transport over cars (25%) and radically changing our agricultural model (24%) were similarly unpopular.

    Only 23% felt that reducing plane travel and charging more for products that did not respect environmental norms were important to preserve the planet, while banning fossil fuel vehicles (22%) and reducing meat consumption (18%) and international trade (17%) were seen as even lower priorities.

    “Citizens are undeniably concerned by the state of the planet, but these findings raise doubts regarding their level of commitment to preserving it,” the study said. “Rather than translating into a greater willingness to change their habits, citizens’ concerns are particularly focused on their negative assessment of governments’ efforts.”

    Representative samples of more than 1,000 people were questioned in the US, UK, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Poland, Singapore and New Zealand.

    People gave themselves the highest score for commitment everywhere except Sweden, while only in Singapore and New Zealand were national governments seen as highly engaged. The gulf between citizens’ view of their own efforts (44%) and that of their government (16%) was highest in the UK.

    Valerie Mackenzie pins down the difference with some examples.

    What is the difference between believing and knowing? When do we know when we believe or know and do we know when believing becomes knowing? Every new challenge has its obstacles and when embarking on these challenges, we may either doubt our ability to cope or believe that we will be able to accomplish our task. However, it is not until the challenge has been attempted and won or lost that we know.

    Therefore, believing is the state of mind where we can choose whether or not to accept what we hear or read. We have the choice to consider second-hand knowledge, e.g. we may read in the newspaper that a lion escaped from London Zoo yesterday or hear on the radio that there is a five mile tailback on the M25. But, if we have not actually witnessed the escaped lion or the five mile tailback, we cannot know the reports are true.

    Knowing is the state of mind where we have first hand awareness of an event, something that we have personally experienced through any of our five senses or through our own accomplishments.

    Context 2 – Legal

    Inspector Collins was convinced Billy had done the garage job. Petty robbery was Billy’s hallmark. Impatiently he waited for the security video, knowing he could only hold Billy for another couple of hours before having to release him. Billy was a young offender and there were more important cases on the Inspector’s books but robbery was robbery no matter how paltry the rewards.

    Inspector Collins studied the video as soon as it arrived but it only confirmed what the garage attendant had told them, that the robber had been wearing a mask and full length mac. Billy had neither when he was picked up not half a mile from the scene of the crime. The Inspector would have to let Billy go. As he picked up the telephone a constable came in with another video. The garage attendant had remembered that a camera had recently been installed at the back of the garage. Putting the video into the machine, a grin crept across the Inspector’s face as he saw the robber running towards the hidden camera, ripping off a mask. It was Billy. He’d got him.

    Context 3 – Emotional

    Sandy believed Peter was having an affair. He was going out more often, to the sports club, so he said; suddenly wearing aftershave regularly and he had become fashion conscious and particular about his clothes, whereas before he would just grab anything from his wardrobe. His hair had been cut short and styled; Sandy preferred the long, raffish look of before. She had asked him outright, was he having an affair? He said no, of course not, then looked away. In a way Sandy couldn’t really blame him if he was. She knew she had let herself go since Danny’s birth, but she was so tired all the time. Anyway, Danny was Peter’s responsibility as well, even if it didn’t suit his new image.

    The next night Peter was due to go to the sports club Sandy arranged for her mother to babysit and she followed him. As Peter approached the entrance to the club a pretty, slim, long-legged blonde got out of a car and they kissed passionately, intimately, before getting into the car and driving off. Sandy just stood and watched the car disappear round the corner, tears rolling down her face. Now she knew, she didn’t want to know.

    Context 4 – Medical

    Marion believed herself to be pregnant. She didn’t want to be. Not yet, not now. There was too much to do, so many things still to see. And the money. How would they manage without her salary? They weren’t exactly rolling in it with two salaries coming in. Sam was delighted and said they’d manage. Marion could understand his excitement. He was older than her, had done all the things he wanted to do and now wanted to settle down and have a family.

    The doctor told her the pregnancy test was positive. Maybe the test was wrong. But the weeks passed and her body grew. Sam went with her to have a scan. The nurse pointed out the baby to them on the screen and gave them a print-out to keep. Marion now knew for sure – and it didn’t seem so bad after all.

    Context 5 – Religious

    I have a choice of whether or not I believe there is a God. I choose to believe in a God but it is not necessarily the God that you or someone else believes in. I do believe that each one of us believes in a different God; a God that is in our minds and imaginations. A God that is unique to ourselves. I believe this is so even amongst those who belong to the same religion.

    I know that I will never be able to prove there is a God, never be able to prove that God is, or is not, ‘the creator’. I believe that it is impossible to ‘know’ in the true sense of the word, anything about religion. Religion is ambiguous, abstract. I believe that in certain religions, believers/followers will abstain from alcohol, or certain types of food. When I started this I believed I could come up with a satisfactory conclusion. Now I know I can’t.

    Context 6 – Financial

    Bert was expecting a bonus. He had worked hard on the Simmings Project and the Company was doing well at the moment. He was not just assuming a bonus would come. He had been led to believe by listening carefully and reading between the lines. A bonus seemed imminent. “You’re a great asset to the Company”, “Mr. Fortescue is very pleased with the Simmings Project” and “As a Company we reward hard work”.

    Every time the phone rang or the internal mail wallet landed on his desk Bert twitched nervously. Day after day passed. No call, no envelope, no bonus. Perhaps he had got it all wrong. The next day a Private & Confidential manila envelope was inside the large internal mail wallet on his desk. Bert was hesitant at first then his fingers eagerly tore at the envelope. He grinned broadly; inside was a nice fat cheque and a two line note from the Managing Director. Bert knew he hadn’t got it wrong.

    © Valerie Mackenzie 1993
    Valerie Mackenzie is studying philosophy on an adult education course at Epping Forest College.

    ‘It comes from bacteria, and goes back to bacteria’: the future of plastic alternatives

    Laura Paddison
    , The Guardian, Fri 15 Oct 2021 12.03 BST

    Making a biodegradable material strong enough to replace plastic is a tough task. But scientists are trying to do just that

    “We’re showing that you can actually reimagine a food system that’s not built on the foundation of single-use plastic”, said CEO James Rogers.
    “We’re showing that you can actually reimagine a food system that’s not built on the foundation of single-use plastic”, said CEO James Rogers. Photograph: Observer/Jesse Chehak

    When people think about plastic waste, they often think of the packaging that swaddles supermarket fruits and vegetables – shiny layers that are stripped away and thrown in the bin as soon as the produce is unloaded at home.

    It’s a wasteful cycle that California-based company Apeel says it can help end. The firm has developed an edible, tasteless and invisible plant-based spray for fruits and vegetables that works as a barrier to keep oxygen out and moisture in, increasing shelf life without the need for single-use plastic.

    It’s currently being sprayed on to cucumbers and avocados at retailers including Walmart. “We’re showing that you can actually reimagine a food system that’s not built on the foundation of single-use plastic”, said the CEO, James Rogers.

    Apeel, which is valued at $2bn, is part of a wave of startups and scientific projects racing to develop materials that could help replace traditional single-use plastics. Their production methods and applications vary widely, but their stated aim is the same: to end the scourge of plastic waste.

    Since the 1950s, the world has produced an estimated 8.3bn tonnes of plastic, nearly two-thirds of which has ended up in landfill or leaching into soil, rivers and oceans; choking wildlife. Plastics are a driver of the climate crisis – the vast majority are made from fossil fuels and if global production continues on current trends, plastics may account for about 20% of oil consumption by mid-century.

    The problem is that fossil-based plastics are not easy to replace. Plastic is a wonder material: cheap to produce, lightweight and incredibly durable. The latter is a great quality in use but not when it ends up in landfill or the environment – plastic can take centuries to degrade. Finding a material that is strong but can also essentially self-destruct when needed is incredibly tough. But plenty of scientists and companies are trying.

    Bioplastics have emerged as a popular alternative, even if they currently make up less than 1% of the market. Made from bio sources such as sugarcane, algae, even banana waste and shellfish, many pitch themselves as eliminating the need for fossil fuels and also breaking down easily after use.

    These green claims do not always stand up to scrutiny, said Sarah Kakadellis, a researcher in plastic pollution at Imperial College London. If the raw material is not sourced sustainably, bioplastics could end up increasing deforestation to clear land and competing with food production. They also do not always break down as easily as advertised – sometimes taking years – and others require industrial composting facilities, which can be scarce.

    Some companies say they have cracked these problems. The Dutch biochemicals company Avantium, which has partnered with brands such as Carlsberg, has developed a 100% plant-based plastic made from sugars that can be used for bottles and films. The company says its plastic is 100%-recyclable, has a significantly lower carbon footprint than fossil-based plastics and is sourced from sustainably grown plants.

    If this plastic falls out of the recycling stream, trials have shown that it takes about a year to decompose in an industrial composter. Left in the environment, the plastic starts to degrade after a year, according to initial results from a long-term study with the University of Amsterdam.

    Avantium plans to open its first plant in 2023 in the Netherlands and predicts its packaging will be in supermarkets in three years’ time.

    The coastal fishing community of Jamestown in Accra, Ghana, is overwhelmed by plastic and clothes waste.
    The coastal fishing community of Jamestown in Accra, Ghana, is overwhelmed by plastic and clothes waste. Photograph: Muntaka Chasant/REX/Shutterstock

    Other companies are developing plastics that avoid the need for crops altogether. In September, the UK-based biotech startup Shellworks launched a plastic made from microbes found in many marine and soil environments. These feed on carbon sources, building up a fat-like energy storage system. When this fat is extracted it behaves exactly like plastic, said Shellworks’ co-founder Amir Afshar; the difference is, when it returns to nature the same bacteria see it as food and start to eat it. “It comes from bacteria, and then goes back to bacteria,” Afshar said.

    The company has signed deals with beauty companies to work on products such as tubes, bottles and compacts, which often end up in landfill. When people have finished with Shellworks’ products, said co-founder Insiya Jafferjee, they can be treated like food waste and composted, with no special infrastructure needed.

    Other scientists are trying to turn plastic into a tool for tackling the climate crisis by making plastics from greenhouse gases. “One could see in the future capturing carbon dioxide from the air and then using that … to produce plastic,” Kakadellis said.

    Scientists at Rutgers University have developed technology that can turn water and CO2 into precursors for various plastics, which they say could replace PET and polyester fibre, ubiquitous in the fashion industry (about 60% of material made into clothing is plastic).

    The method is “essentially replicating nature’s process for making oil and gas over millions of years but doing so in a fraction of a second”, said Anders Laursen, the CEO of RenewCO₂, the startup spun out of Rutgers’ research. The company hopes to harness the CO2 emitted from plastics as they decompose or are incinerated and use it to create new products. RenewCO₂ is building a pilot plant and expects to reach commercialisation in 2025.

    Increasing consumer pushback on plastics has also led some companies to trial completely different materials. Mars and Unilever are experimenting with paper, which is widely recycled and less harmful than plastics if it ends up in the sea or landfill.

    This summer, Coca-Cola began testing a paper bottle in Hungary for its drink AdeZ, in partnership with Copenhagen-based startup Paboco, which makes bottles from moulded FSC-certified paper pulp. These bottles still have a plastic lid, however, and are lined with a recycled PET plastic film to keep the product from leaking or paper fibres from getting in. “Our ultimate vision,” said Paboco’s interim CEO, Gittan Schiöld, “is to develop a fully bio-based paper bottle that can also be recyclable in the paper stream”.

    The big questions for these innovations, said Sander Defruyt, who leads the new plastics economy initiative at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, are: where is the material sourced from and where does it end up? Paper, for example, isn’t a sustainable packaging material if it contributes to deforestation or if the paper bottles and sweet wrappers don’t make it into recycling streams. It’s also likely to take many years before these materials can scale up enough to make a dent in the 300m tonnes of plastic produced every year.

    Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez (right) the co-founders of the company Ooho, who developed an edible water capsule that is an alternative to plastic water bottles.
    Pierre Paslier (left) and Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez. co-founders of Ooho, who developed an edible water capsule that is an alternative to plastic water bottles. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

    Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society at University College London, worries about the proliferation of materials being developed without enough thought about how they fit into existing waste systems. “Mostly what we want to do is actually make plastics that are very durable and we want to keep them in the system – so we want to recycle,” he said.

    Where he thinks biodegradability and compostability make sense are products such as caddy liners for food waste bins, teabags (“why include the plastic that’s going to last you 100 years into a teabag? That’s crazy!”) and hygiene products such as nappies.

    Before they are potty-trained, a baby can use about 6,000 disposable nappies and these are nearly impossible to recycle. The Australian company gDiapers has created a plastic-free compostable nappy alongside a delivery and collection service. “We put this thing out into the world, we’re going to bring it back,” said Jason Graham-Nye, who co-founded gDiapers with his wife, Kim.

    The company is running a trial dropping off and collecting compostable nappies in West Papua, Indonesia, where nappies make up about 20% of the ocean waste – the resulting compost is used on the land. It is also working to launch its first UK trial in London.

    Products with very short shelf-lives could also suit compostable packaging. London-based Notpla makes plastic replacements from seaweed – a fast-growing, carbon sequestering plant – which break down anywhere within a few weeks.

    “It’s targeted at places where we pick something, we consume it, and it’s over within minutes,” said co-founder Pierre Paslier, “and that’s really where plastic is the worst material because it’s going to be around forever”.

    Notpla’s edible “Ooho” water bubbles were handed to runners at the 2019 London marathon. It has also partnered with the delivery service JustEat to provide compostable condiment sachets that can be put straight into the household food waste bins and has developed a seaweed coating to replace the plastic lining on cardboard takeaway boxes.

    Materials innovation is one part of the puzzle, said Defruyt, but truly dealing with plastic waste requires a hierarchy of action: eliminate as much plastic as possible; then use recycled plastic; finally, where virgin plastics are still required, use renewable feedstocks. “It really needs to be in that order”, he said.

    Scientists, engineers and companies may be tempted to look at plastic and say, “let’s swap it for another thing and that’s now solved”, Miodownik said, but “the truth is, you have to redesign the whole system if you’re going to solve the problem”.

    Students’ solar-powered camper van turns heads on 1,800-mile road trip

    By Weronika Strzyżyńska The Guardian

    The solar-powered Stella Vita on a stop in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock
    The solar-powered Stella Vita on a stop in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

    team of students from the Netherlands are due to complete an 1,800-mile (3,000km) road trip across western Europe in a solar-powered camper van that they designed and built themselves.

    The Stella Vita is designed for two passengers and has a kitchen, sitting area, bed, shower and toilet. Using solar energy alone, the vehicle can cover up to 450 miles on a sunny day, reaching a top speed of 75mph, as well as powering all the inside amenities, a TV and a laptop.

    The vehicle has solar panels on the roof that can be expanded into a sun cover when parked. The van can also be charged through electric charging ports.

    “The technology is there, we just have to change the way we think,” said 20-year-old Tijn ter Horst, one of the Eindhoven University of Technology students onboard. “If 22 students can design and build a vehicle like this in one year, then I’m sure companies could as well.”

    The road trip, which started in Eindhoven on 19 September and was due to conclude in Tarifa, south-west Spain, on Friday, was part of the students’ self-set challenge to demonstrate the potential of solar energy.

    The van’s interior. Photograph: Sergio Pérez/Reuters

    This is not the first solar-powered vehicle produced by the university, which first joined Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, a biennial Australian solar vehicle competition, in 2013. “This year there was no competition so the students set their own goals and challenges” said Dr Carlo van der Weijer, who has been the team’s coordinator.

    While previous Eindhoven teams won consecutive competitions with their 5-seater designs, Van der Weijer believes there may be a bigger commercial appetite for the mobile home. Ecologically minded camping enthusiasts might be tempted by an electric van that is not reliant on charging points, which remain scarce in many places, he said.

    According to the students, the Stella Vita has been a hit on Spanish roads, attracting attention from other drivers, and Van der Weijer said the vehicle was also an option in less sun-exposed locations.

    “On a cloudy day the vehicle can still produce 60%-70% of the energy,” he said. “And even if there is no sun at all, you still have an efficient, normal electric car that you can charge from a charging port.”

    In her opinion piece in the Toronto Star of January 21, Heather Scofield tries to justify the buyback of government bonds as a way “to ease the borrowing conditions for business and individuals”, by explaining that this requires an expansion of the money supply. In thinking about this, we should remember that during the second world war, to pay for the war effort, (e.g., purchase of equipment, salaries for the armed forces, logistical support) the government of the time followed the same procedure. And it should be noted that after the war, the debt that was incurred was never paid back. 

    So, what happened to it? It is sometimes said that it was simply swallowed up in the economic boom that began after the war, when this debt still exists in the form of profit to the companies that made equipment during the war and the mortgages of people who needed housing.

    A similar thing is happening today. Money that enters the economy through CRBs and CRSBs gets spent by the recipients to help keep food on the table or pay the mortgage. And through the “trickle up” process, the spending of these funds helps grease the wheels of business, finally ending up either in the hands of big corporations such as Amazon, Walmart, et al, or in increased value on the stock market. In truth, the government could continue to feed this mill for a long time. And while it would have no effect on the general population, rich people would simply keep getting richer. This will cause the middlemen in the system, noticing the growing disparity and wanting more of this largesse, to raise prices. This is where inflation starts to raise its ugly head, and the amount paid to the unemployed becomes insufficient.

    Much is being said in promoting a Universal Basic Income as the alternative to targeted payments. But where should the money come from to finance this UBI?      taxes of course, not from ordinary people living paycheck to paycheck, but from those who have more than they need. When printing new money, the government should be concerned only with ensuring that every dollar handed out is accounted for as it is spent and never saved. In colloquial terms: as we enter a trickle up economy, the foam that eventually reaches the top must be skimmed off and returned to the input stream at the bottom.

    Do not get me wrong. I am not advocating a constant money supply. No doubt, adjustments would be needed as the population grows. But all seed money invested in growth must only be used in jobs and public works.

    We finally have the tools to build a net-zero world

    New Scientist, September1, 2021

    Electric transport

    “Yes we can.” Barack Obama’s political slogan is the perfect mantra for the net-zero targets that now apply to more than two-thirds of the global economy. As our feature imagining a day in a net-zero life demonstrates, most of the technologies that are required to achieve those objectives already exist, or are in early development.

    This isn’t an expression of unthinking, technophile optimism in the face of the dire findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s recent report. We aren’t dismissing the technical, regulatory, economic and social challenges that will be involved in decarbonising buildings, transforming transport, upending diets and reshaping our landscapes.

    Neither are we saying that it will be easy to remove the large amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere that the IPCC thinks we must do if we wish to avoid the climate impacts of a world that breaches 1.5°C of warming.

    But what is clear is that the tools exist for countries to reach net zero by 2050. We have the technologies and, increasingly, the right costs and scale. Wind and solar power can clean up electricity. Electrify almost everything, including heating and cars. Then pick truly green fuels – green hydrogen and more – for tricky stuff like heavy industry, trucks and ships.

    “The costs of shifting to net zero must be weighed against the price of inaction”
    How well governments pitch their policies to speed up the progress of these technologies will be key to winning buy-in from citizens that will shoulder the costs of the transition. The UK faces that test in coming weeks, with the publication of its net-zero strategy. The extreme weather of 2021 illustrates how the costs of shifting to net zero must be weighed against the price of inaction.

    Politicians will also be aided by the fact that, as our feature spells out, a net-zero world should be a better one: healthier, cleaner, wilder. “Yes, we can” is the message for individual countries on the road to net zero. Can the whole world do it? This is the open question that leaders at the UN COP26 summit must address in two months’ time.

    Earth’s tipping points could be closer than we think. Our current plans won’t work

    By George Monbiot The Guardian4 

    A flash flood caused by Tropical Storm Henri in Helmetta, New Jersey, on 22 August 2021. ‘The extreme weather in 2021 – the heat domes, droughts, fires, floods and cyclones – is, frankly, terrifying.’ Photograph: Tom Brenner/AFP/Getty Images
    A flash flood caused by Tropical Storm Henri in Helmetta, New Jersey, on 22 August 2021. ‘The extreme weather in 2021 – the heat domes, droughts, fires, floods and cyclones – is, frankly, terrifying.’ Photograph: Tom Brenner/AFP/Getty Images

    If there’s one thing we know about climate breakdown, it’s that it will not be linear, smooth or gradual. Just as one continental plate might push beneath another in sudden fits and starts, causing periodic earthquakes and tsunamis, our atmospheric systems will absorb the stress for a while, then suddenly shift. Yet, everywhere, the programmes designed to avert it are linear, smooth and gradual.

    Current plans to avoid catastrophe would work in a simple system like a washbasin, in which you can close the tap until the inflow is less than the outflow. But they are less likely to work in complex systems, such as the atmosphere, oceans and biosphere. Complex systems seek equilibrium. When they are pushed too far out of one equilibrium state, they can flip suddenly into another. A common property of complex systems is that it’s much easier to push them past a tipping point than to push them back. Once a transition has happened, it cannot realistically be reversed.

    The old assumption that the Earth’s tipping points are a long way off is beginning to look unsafe. A recent paper warns that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – the system that distributes heat around the world and drives the Gulf Stream – may now be “close to a critical transition”. This circulation has flipped between “on” and “off” states several times in prehistory, plunging northern Europe and eastern North America into unbearable cold, heating the tropics, disrupting monsoons.

    Other systems could also be approaching their thresholds: the West and East Antarctic ice sheets, the Amazon rainforest, and the Arctic tundra and boreal forests, which are rapidly losing the carbon they store, driving a spiral of further heating. Earth systems don’t stay in their boxes. If one flips into a different state, it could trigger the flipping of others. Sudden changes of state might be possible with just 1.5C or 2C of global heating.

    A common sign that complex systems are approaching tipping points is rising volatility: they start to flicker. The extreme weather in 2021 – the heat domes, droughts, fires, floods and cyclones – is, frankly, terrifying. If Earth systems tip as a result of global heating, there will be little difference between taking inadequate action and taking no action at all. A miss is as good as a mile.

    So the target that much of the world is now adopting for climate action – net zero by 2050 – begins to look neither rational nor safe. It’s true that our only hope of avoiding catastrophic climate breakdown is some variety of net zero. What this means is that greenhouse gases are reduced through a combination of decarbonising the economy and drawing down carbon dioxide that’s already in the atmosphere. It’s too late to hit the temperature targets in the Paris agreement without doing both. But there are two issues: speed and integrity. Many of the promises seem designed to be broken.

    At its worst, net zero by 2050 is a device for shunting responsibility across both time and space. Those in power today seek to pass their liabilities to those in power tomorrow. Every industry seeks to pass the buck to another industry. Who is this magical someone else who will suck up their greenhouse gases?

    Their plans rely on either technology or nature to absorb the carbon dioxide they want to keep producing. The technologies consist of carbon capture and storage (catching the carbon emissions from power stations and cement plants then burying them in geological strata), or direct air capture (sucking carbon dioxide out of the air and burying that too). But their large-scale use is described by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as “subject to multiple feasibility and sustainability constraints”. They are unlikely to be deployed at scale in the future for the same reason that they’re not being deployed at scale today, despite 20 years of talk: technical and logistical barriers. Never mind: you can keep smoking, because one day they’ll find a cure for cancer.

    So what’s left is nature: the capacity of the world’s living systems to absorb the gases we produce. As a report by ActionAid points out, there’s not enough land in the world to meet the promises to offset emissions that companies and governments have already made. Even those who own land want someone else to deal with their gases: in the UK, the National Farmers’ Union is aiming for net zero. But net zero commitments by other sectors work only if farmland goes sharply net negative. That means an end to livestock farming and the restoration of forests, peat bogs and other natural carbon sinks. Instead, a mythical other will also have to suck up emissions from farming: possibly landowners on Venus or Mars.

    Even when all the promised technofixes and offsets are counted, current policies commit us to a calamitous 2.9C of global heating. To risk irreversible change by proceeding at such a leisurely pace, to rely on undelivered technologies and nonexistent capacities: this is a formula for catastrophe.

    If Earth systems cross critical thresholds, everything we did and everything we were – the learning, the wisdom, the stories, the art, the politics, the love, the hate, the anger and the hope – will be reduced to stratigraphy. It’s not a smooth and linear transition we need. It’s a crash course.

    TDSB’s 2021 School Renewal Needs Backlog Pegged at $3.7 Billion

    Thursday, July 8, 2021
    Categories: News Releases

    The Toronto District School Board’s (TDSB) 2021 data reports a system-wide school renewal needs backlog of $3.7 billion, up from $3.6 billion in June 2020.

    The Ontario government is responsible for determining the funds for school boards to make school repairs. TDSB’s schools are underfunded and have been for many years. The Board’s repairs backlog was approximately $3.7 billion as of May 2021. For the 2021-2022 school year, the Ministry allocated $275 million to the TDSB, well short of its repairs backlog.

    The TDSB continues to advocate for the Ontario government to grant the Board access to Education Development Charges (EDCs) and to allow EDCs to be partially used to repair schools. Given the rate of new residential development in the City of Toronto, if the TDSB had access to EDCs it would generate approximately $500 million in new revenue over the next 15 years – funds that could build new schools and repair existing schools.

    The TDSB brought a legal challenge to access EDCs which was heard by the court March 2021. The Ontario government was supported by BILD, an association of land developers in Ontario, an Intervenor in the case. TDSB is disappointed with the Divisional Court’s decision to uphold the government’s right to deny the TDSB access to development charges. The TDSB is reviewing the decision and will be considering an appeal. TDSB Chair Alexander Brown said the Board will continue to use all means at its disposal to advocate for TDSB’s fair access to EDCs.

    Chair Brown expressed his appreciation to parent organizations such as Fix Our Schools for their grass roots advocacy work to raise awareness and increase provincial funding for school repairs.

    Consistent with the TDSB’s commitment to transparency, accountability and Open Data, the TDSB reports annual system-wide and school-by-school Renewal Needs Backlog (RNB) and the Facility Condition Index(FCI) information. The system-wide data are posted on the TDSB’s website and each school’s data are reported on school websites. The FCI and RNB data correspond to the 2021 calendar year. In 2016, the TDSB became, what is thought to be, the first school board in Ontario to post each school’s FCI rating and RNB.

    Quick Facts

    • The Renewal Needs Backlog list and the Facility Condition Index rating do not represent a health or safety concern for students or staff.
    • Data is collected by an independent consultant hired by the Ministry of Education.
    • Approximately 50 per cent of our schools are over 60 years old and building components continue to age requiring major repairs or replacement. 64 of our schools are older than 95 years, including seven that were built before 1900.

    The central banks have set the stage for a persistent and ugly inflationary future
    By Frank Giustra Contributor to Toronto Star

    Nobody knows nothing.” — William Goldman

    It’s likely the most important and hotly debated subject in today’s financial markets: Are we entering an inflationary or deflationary era?

    Which scenario you subscribe to will make an enormous difference in how you invest your money. Simply put, if you believe in high inflation, you would put your money in hard assets, like gold, real estate, commodities and certain stocks. And of course, the currency of the country where the inflation is taking place should be avoided.

    On the other hand, if you believe we are entering a deflationary environment, you would stay in cash and bonds.

    Regardless of which side of the debate you land on, the wrong decision could totally devastate your portfolio.

    Day after day, the financial news features a parade of smug people pontificating on this issue. And they will inevitably be evenly split in their respective opinions. For the average investor, it’s a cornucopia of confusion.

    I have been a keen student of economic history and I’ve been writing about markets for the past two decades. After the 2008 financial crisis I made a prediction that ended up being only partially right. While many market observers were forecasting an economic depression, I took the position that the U.S. Federal Reserve would step in and bail out the system by printing money (quantitative easing). And in doing so, creating a floor under the economy to prevent a full-blown depression. I was proven right on both counts.

    However, I also predicted that we would see 1970s-style inflation, or worse. That’s where I was wrong. Instead of making its way into consumer prices, all that newly printed money was funnelled into various asset classes instead. The biggest beneficiary of all this largesse was the stock market.

    Today asset inflation is still alive and well, thanks to a Fed monetary policy that provides artificially low rates and an ongoing $120 billion of new money created every month.

    So, where did I get it wrong? For the longest time I believed that it came down to two factors.

    First, globally there was still a lot of excess capacity to produce goods, which would keep a lid on producer costs.

    Second, and more importantly, the zero-rate interest environment allowed institutions and the wealthy to tap into as much cash as they wanted and pay virtually nothing for the privilege.

    In essence, it was free money to those that didn’t need it.

    Most of that borrowed money went into investments in real estate, along with the financial markets. That’s the reason we are seeing bubbles in almost every asset class and why global debt has more than doubled since 2008, to a staggering $270 trillion.

    The most egregious outcome that stemmed from these policies was the ever-widening wealth gap — this level of inequality was last seen in the 19th century.

    Since the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, government deficits — especially in the U.S. — and the money printing needed to maintain the low costs of all the additional debt required have gone through the roof. In fact, they’re at a much higher rate than in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

    The Fed balance sheet — the totality of its assets and liabilities — has doubled to $8 trillion U.S. (up tenfold since 2008) and the total U.S. federal debt is approaching $30 trillion (up threefold). But unlike in 2008, the money printing, deemed necessary due to the pandemic, is generating inflation on almost every product or service you can imagine. Everything is going up in price. In June and July, the U.S. consumer price index (CPI) was up 5.4 per cent annualized for each month. That’s a huge increase from the sub-two-per-cent inflation rates we have grown accustomed to over the past decade.

    It’s what happens from here, though, that is generating the ongoing inflation-versus-deflation disagreement.

    The Fed will tell you these inflation numbers are “transitory,” caused by temporary bottlenecks in supply chains and the effects of the reopening of the economy. Many well-known market pundits strongly disagree: They believe inflation is not only here to stay, but that it could get much worse, especially as “inflation expectations” set in. However, why would the outcome be any different than it was after the last round of excessive money printing?

    I had a recent conversation with my friend James Rickards, an American lawyer, economist, investment banker, speaker, media commentator and author on matters of finance. He recently wrote the book, “The New Great Depression: Winners and Losers in a Post-Pandemic World.”

    Rickards believes we have been in a deflationary environment for the past 20 years, with the Fed caught in a desperate (and losing) race to increase money supply in the face of rapidly decreasing money velocity.

    The term velocity refers here to the rate of turnover in money supply — the number of times one dollar is used to purchase final goods and services. The higher the velocity, the more upward pressure on inflation. Think of it in this way: If a central bank creates a pile of new money and no one spends it, how can prices go up?

    The $7 trillion of new money multiplied by zero use still equals zero. According to Rickards, that’s what’s been occurring over the past 20 years and especially since the start of the pandemic. Money velocity in the U.S. peaked in 1998 and has been falling ever since. Today it’s half of what it was in 1998. Fed policy has been on a dismal 20-year run of failure.

    The reasons behind this trend, the theory goes, are deflationary forces at play: Changing demographics, technology and automation, high debt loads and most importantly, “precautionary savings” all play a role in keeping prices down.

    Precautionary savings occurs when people are uncertain about the future: they tend to save, not spend. The personal savings rate which hovered around five per cent 20 years ago has steadily moved up as high as 33 per cent and is currently in the 10 per cent range. Of all the stimulus cheques issued under both Trump and Biden administrations, only 20 per cent has been spent. The rest went into savings (which includes investments in the stock market).

    Velocity also depends on credit creation and to that end, banks have not been lending (unless the borrower is wealthy) and the general public has not been borrowing. Most of the newly created money is sitting, sterile. The banks just leave it with the Fed as excess reserves.

    So, what will change velocity? What drives it?

    According to Rickards, the primary explanatory variable is psychology. It’s about how people feel. If they feel prosperous and that real incomes are rising, asset values are rising and jobs are secure, they will spend more, banks will lend more and velocity will rise.

    If they feel anxious and that real incomes are stagnant, that asset values may be in bubble territory or that their jobs are not secure, they will save more and borrow less. If banks feel the same uncertainty, they will tighten credit and velocity will fall.

    Rickards believes we are looking at the latter case right now.

    This has been true in various ways for 20 years, as a result of the 2000 dot-com crash, through the 2008 financial crisis and the 2020 COVID-induced recession. Even though stock-market indexes have reached new highs, three crashes in 20 years create fear of asset bubbles, rather than confidence in asset prices.

    The other factor that would be a powerful driver of higher velocity is a recursive function, usually caused by cost-push inflation. If prices rise because of higher input costs (usually labour costs, but could also be energy costs — we had both in the 1970s), then the psychology will shift to an expectation of higher prices, which brings demand forward, which creates shortages and higher prices and so on in a feedback loop.

    Central banks are well aware of how inflation expectations impact actual inflation. That’s why the CPI is rigged to create a lower inflation number than is actually the case. It’s also why central banks openly admit that their job is to reduce public uncertainty about monetary policy, thereby anchoring long-term inflation expectations.

    Rickards believes that the current disinflationary environment will continue through 2022, but will then begin a dramatic shift toward inflation starting in 2023. The catalyst will be the changing demographics in China. For the past 40 years, China has been the world’s factory thanks to their huge and cheap labour force, which has had the effect of exporting deflation to the world through lower prices. That’s about to change.

    China’s population grew to 1.4 billion people today from one billion people in 1982; by 1990, the majority of the population was between the ages of 15 and 40. But over the past 30 years, the population has been aging rapidly — the country is simply not creating younger workers. The bulge in the population distribution is now between the ages of 40 and 60, and in another decade, that bulge will be between the ages of 50 and 70, with a substantial cohort over age 70.

    This same trend is occurring in Europe and Japan. All this will mean higher labour costs in a slow-growth environment which will manifest itself in inflation.

    Rickards believes that the upcoming global cost-push inflation will come as a shock and create a behavioural change in consumers. Additionally, that shift would be occurring in an environment where it would be virtually impossible for central banks to rein in all the monetary stimulus they have recklessly created during the past two decades. The end result will be an inflationary cycle and subpar growth for decades.

    I have learned one thing when it comes to market and economic predictions: “nobody knows nothing.” There are simply too many variables that make certainty about anything impossible.

    Having said that, I do believe that one way or another, central-bank monetary policy has set the stage for a persistent and ugly inflationary future. Investors should hedge their bets accordingly.


    How were the Ancients able to produce lamps, which could burn without fuel, for hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years? The secret of the eternal flame was regarded as God’s sole property, but the ancient Egyptians figured it out. They believed their dead needed light to guide them on their journey to the Underworld, so before a tomb was sealed the custom was to place an eternal burning lamp inside. Not only was it an offering to the god of the dead but it was the belief that light kept away evil spirits.

    Based on ancient records these mysterious eternal burning lamps were discovered in tombs and temples all over the world going back even to the Middle Ages, where more than 170 medieval authors wrote about this strange phenomenon. It is unfortunate that so many of these lamps were destroyed by early day vandals and looters who feared they possessed supernatural powers.

    The stories of these lamps are quite remarkable:

    St. Augustine described an Egyptian temple, dedicated to the goddess Venus, which contained a lamp which could not be extinguished. He declared it to be the work of the devil.

    In 527 A.D., at Edessa, Syria, during the reign of emperor Justinian, soldiers discovered an ever-burning lamp in a niche over a gateway, elaborately enclosed to protect it from the air. According to the inscription, it was lit in 27 A.D. The lamp had burned for 500 years before the soldiers who found it, destroyed it.


    In 140, near Rome, a lamp was found burning in the tomb of Pallas, son of King Evander. The lamp, which had been alight for over 2,000 years, could not be extinguished by ordinary methods. It turned out that neither water nor blowing on the flame stopped it from burning. The only way to extinguish the remarkable flame was to drain off the strange liquid contained in the lamp bowl.

    In about 1540, during the Papacy of Paul III a burning lamp was found in a tomb on the Appian Way at Rome. The tomb was believed to belong to Tulliola, the daughter of Cicero. She died in 44 B.C. The lamp that had burned in the sealed vault for 1,550 years was extinguished when exposed to the air.

    When King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534, he ordered dissolution of monasteries in Britain and many tombs were plundered. In Yorkshire, a burning lamp was discovered in a tomb of Constantius Chlorus, father of the Great Constantine. He died in 300 A.D. which means that the lamp had been burning for more than 1,200 years.

    In his notes to St. Augustine, 1610, Ludovicus Vives writes about a lamp that was found in his father’s time, in 1580 A.D. According to the inscription, the lamp was burning for 1,500 years, however when it was touched it fell into pieces. Obviously, Ludovicus Vives did not share some of St. Augustine’s views. He considered perpetual lamps to be an invention of very wise and skilled men and not the devil.

    For centuries the answer to the riddle of what type of renewable fuel the ancients used has remained a mystery. About a year ago, when I first became interested in this subject, I came across an obscure report of someone opening a tomb and finding strange “liquid silver drops” on the floor. It had an ever-burning lamp in it, but somehow it had broken. I immediately thought back to the thermometer I broke as a child and seeing the liquid mercury beads go scattering.  My mother warned me not to touch them and immediately vacuumed them up before disposing of the bag. I was sure the “silver drops” in the tomb were mercury.

    Mercury was the key tool of the early alchemist along with sulfur and salt. These were believed to be the Earth’s three principal substances, also called Body (Salt), Soul (Sulfur) and Spirit (Mercury). The ancient alchemists used them in combination to perform what often appeared as magic.  Mercury has some interesting effects. It can be extremely volatile and has been coined the “Eagle.” Unless it is effectively contained and sealed, it rises into the air and is lost.

    In 1675 a French astronomer named Jean-Felix Picard made a remarkable observation. He was carrying a mercury barometer, when he noticed that the empty-space glowed as the mercury jiggled. Many people tried to explain this phenomenon, among which an English scientist named Francis Hauksbee, who was the first to demonstrate a gas-discharge lamp in 1705, operated with static electricity. 100 years later, Vasily V. Petrov, a Russian self-taught electrical technician, described for the first time the phenomenon of the electrical arc, which led to different kinds of discharge light sources. One such type of high-intensity discharge lamp uses mercury-vapor.


    How would such a mercury-vapor lamp work?  A gas discharge lamp is a light source that generates light by creating an electrical discharge through ionized gas. In other words, ionized gas from the heated mercury builds up in the sealed tomb, creating a self-sustaining electrical charge that fuels the light. Mercury has thermal conductivity, gives off heat, and can act much like a fusion reactor under certain conditions. I’m no scientist, but you can find a lot about how mercury works by searching the Internet, and it adds up.  Perhaps this mystery is no mystery at all and a modern-day alchemist (aka chemical engineer) can verify this.

    It’s interesting to note it was often reported that when a tomb was opened, the light went out.  This would make sense if built up gas in the tomb is released. This may also explain why so many tomb robbers and archeological workers reported feeling acutely ill after entering many of these tombs. They were being exposed to mercury vapor poisoning—an invisible and odorless enemy. Maybe the Ancients intended to place such a toxic and deadly curse on any who should disturb their final resting place. Somewhere down the line, they had to suspect something in the tombs was hazardous to one’s health. As a result, it was not uncommon for those opening a tomb to first drill two holes in the vault door, thereby allowing the gas (or evil spirits) to escape prior to entering.

    As synchronicity would have it, a breaking news story occurred this week while I was writing this blog. Archeologists discovered large quantities of liquid mercury beneath the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, the third largest pyramid in the ancient ruined city of Teotihuacan in Mexico. They suspect there are tombs down there.  Local researcher Sergio Gomez told reporters that it completely surprised them. They had no idea why the liquid mercury was present or what use the ancients might have had for it.  However, Gomez does reveal that liquid mercury has been found at three other ancient sites. The mainstream archeological community hasn’t figured it out yet, even though the pieces aren’t too hard to piece together. Their explanation:  “Mercury might have been used to symbolize an underground river. Mercury’s sleek look and reflectivity must have lent to its ritualistic use.”

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they found tomb lamps down there. Hopefully they will also find more answers to ancient art of alchemy.

    Dr. Kathy Forti is a clinical psychologist, inventor of the Trinfinity8 technology, and author of the book, Fractals of God: A Psychologist’s Near-Death Experience and Journeys Into the Mystical

    It has been widely claimed on the internet that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting. This claim is made largely based on an extremely tendentious interpretation of a series of relief carvings from the southern crypt of the ancient Egyptian Temple of Hathor at Dendera and the fact that some Egyptian tombs and temples do not currently have very much soot on their ceilings.

    Unfortunately for those who want to believe that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting, they simply didn’t. As I will show, the reliefs from Dendera almost certainly don’t depict lightbulbs and there is a much more reasonable explanation for why some Egyptian temples and tombs do not have soot on their ceilings.

    The so-called “Dendera lightbulb”

    The primary piece of evidence that people like to cite in support of the idea that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting is a set of three relief carvings from the southern crypt of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, which depict a scene that has become known as the “Dendera lightbulb.” The relief carvings depict a giant lotus flower with the god Harsomtus arising in the form of a serpent from it, surrounded by a bubble of magical energy. In two of the three carvings, the energy bubble emerging from the lotus flower is held up by a miniature male figure dressed in a loincloth with a sun disk on its head. In all three carvings, a full-sized male figure in a loincloth stands behind the lotus flower.

    Many people are convinced that these reliefs from the southern crypt of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera depict incandescent lightbulbs. They think that the stem of the lotus flower is an electrical wire, that the magical bubble around the serpent is the glass bulb, and that the serpent itself is the filament. This, however, is, quite frankly, an absurd interpretation. It is the sort of interpretation that I would normally assume to be satirical, but yet there are many people who are firmly convinced that it is correct.

    If you look at the reliefs carefully, you will notice that there are a lot of obvious signs that should tip you off that they are not depictions of incandescent lightbulbs. For one thing, in all three reliefs, the snake quite clearly has eyes and a mouth. The lotus flower the snake is emerging from quite clearly has petals. It is also worth noting that the filament in an incandescent lightbulb is actually a horizontal wire running between two vertical supply wires. The filament has to be connected to a wire on both sides or it will not produce light. The snake in the relief carvings from Dendera, however, is only attached to lotus flower by its tail; its head is not attached to anything.

    There is really nothing in the relief carvings from Dendera that can be sensibly interpreted as looking anything more than extremely vaguely like a modern incandescent lightbulb—or any other kind of lightbulb. Furthermore, the scene from Dendera actually depicts a well-attested scene from Egyptian mythology. The story of Harsomtus coming forth from the primordial lotus flower is well-known from surviving Egyptian texts.

    ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of one of the reliefs from the southern crypt of the ancient Egyptian Hathor Temple at Dendera that many people (wrongly) think depicts a lightbulb

    ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of another one of the reliefs from the crypt of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera that many people (wrongly) think depicts a lightbulb

    ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of another one of the reliefs from the crypt of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera that many people (wrongly) think depicts a lightbulb

    But what about the soot?

    The other major piece of evidence that is often used to support the idea that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting is the fact that (supposedly) ancient Egyptian tombs and temples do not have any soot damage on their ceilings. Nonetheless, we know that the Egyptians decorated and painted the interiors of these buildings after they were built. Since the buildings often have no windows or other openings, the insides would have been pitch black, meaning the decorators must have brought in some kind of light source, allowing them to see the walls they were decorating.

    Supporters of the idea that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting routinely claim that the Egyptians could not have used any kind of torches or fire for lighting inside these tombs and temples without getting soot everywhere. Therefore, they assert that the Egyptians clearly must have had electric lighting, because there is no other way the decorators would have been able to see inside the temples and tombs without leaving soot.

    This hypothesis has multiple problems. First of all, contrary to what the supporters of the view that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting like to claim, the ceilings of many Egyptian temples and tombs are actually covered in soot. For instance, the ceiling of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera is, in fact, absolutely caked in thick, black soot. The soot on the ceilings of Egyptian buildings, however, is mostly not from the ancient Egyptian decorators, but rather from later periods.

    ABOVE: Photograph of the ceiling of the hypostyle hall of the Temple of Hathor at Dendera, which is absolutely caked in thick, black soot

    As I discuss in this article I wrote in November 2019 about the real reason why Tutankhamun is so famous, we actually know that, from the Byzantine Period onwards, many people took up residence as squatters in ancient Egyptian tombs and temples. In fact, the interior walls of many of the pharaohs’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings are covered in ancient graffiti. For instance, a frustrated visitor from the Byzantine Period left a graffito in Greek on the wall in the Tomb of Ramesses IV (KV2) complaining about how he couldn’t read the hieroglyphs, saying: “I cannot read the writing on the wall!”

    Some soot has also been left by eighteenth and nineteenth-century visitors and explorers, who would routinely explore the ruined temples and tombs carrying lit torches. Ironically, the reason why so many Egyptian temples and tombs have such startlingly clean ceilings is actually because those ceilings have been extensively and meticulously cleaned in modern times by skilled restoration experts.

    Second of all, the light source that the ancient Egyptian decorators most likely would have used while working on the interior decorations of Egyptian temples and tombs would have been castor oil lamps, which burn clean and do not leave soot. In other words, the relative absence of soot in some Egyptian buildings that have not been opened since antiquity is actually pretty much exactly what we would expect. Once you realize that the ancient Egyptians used oil lamps, the whole argument that they must have had electric lighting totally falls apart.

    ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a variety of ancient terracotta oil lamps from the Hellenistic and Roman Periods. Countless examples of oil lamps like the ones shown here have been recovered by archaeologists from locations in Egypt and in other countries.

    A complete lack of historical and archaeological evidence

    The Temple of Hathor at Dendera was constructed during the Hellenistic and Roman Periods of Egyptian history. These are actually quite well-documented periods of Egyptian history. If the Egyptians were using electric lights during this time period, we would expect to find some historical documentation of it. Instead, electric lighting is never mentioned anywhere in any ancient sources.

    Furthermore, if the ancient Egyptians really had electric lighting, we would expect to find extensive archaeological evidence of this. Not only would we expect to find examples of lightbulbs themselves, but we would expect to find extensive mines for the precise minerals needed to make the filaments for the lightbulbs, large numbers of workshops dedicated to manufacturing lightbulbs, massive power plants to generate electricity to power the lightbulbs, extensive networks of electrical wires used to conduct electric current from the power plants to the lightbulbs.

    Instead, we find absolutely none of these things whatsoever. Although the complete lack of evidence does not necessarily prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the ancient Egyptians did not have electric lighting, the total absence of all the things from the historical and archaeological record that we would expect to find if they did have electric lights gives us strong reason to believe that the ancient Egyptians probably did not have electric lighting.

    Meanwhile, while no archaeological evidence has ever been found for electric lightbulbs in ancient Egypt, archaeologists have actually excavated ancient Egyptian oil lamps in large quantities. There is no doubt about the fact that the ancient Egyptians had oil lamps. Therefore, we must ask ourselves the question: “Which is more likely: that the ancient Egyptians used oil lamps, which we know they had in large quantities, or that the ancient Egyptian decorators used electric lights, for whose existence have absolutely no archaeological or literary evidence whatsoever?”

    I think most reasonable people will conclude that the ancient Egyptians had oil lamps but not electric lighting, because that is what the historical evidence indicates. Those who are of an Ancient Aliens inclination, however, will doubtlessly continue to insist, despite the complete lack of evidence, that the ancient Egyptians had electric lighting.

    ABOVE: Photograph from Wikimedia Commons of a modern replica of an ancient terracotta oil lamp dating to the time of the Roman Empire. While many such oil lamps have been found by archaeologists, archaeologists have never uncovered the slightest evidence of electric lighting in ancient Egypt.

    By the way the ancient Greeks didn’t have laptop computers either…

    A very similar example to the so-called “Dendera lightbulb” is an ancient Greek funerary stele dating to around 100 BC or thereabouts that is currently held in the Getty Villa that depicts a wealthy Greek woman reaching out to touch an object held by one of her child-slaves. The object held by the slave is most likely either a shallow box, a mirror, or a wax writing tablet. The object in the slave’s hands has two holes in the side. These are most likely drills holes from where a bronze or wooden fixture of some kind—or perhaps another piece of marble—would have originally been attached.

    An elaborate conspiracy theory about the stele was published in an article in the British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail in February 2016, claiming that the object held by the slave child in the stele is actually a laptop computer and that the round holes in the side of the tablet are USB ports. This is, of course, the sort of ridiculous nonsense that one can reliably expect from The Daily Mail. In any case, since then, images of the stele have gone viral on the internet, with many people claiming that it does indeed represent an ancient Greek laptop computer.

    There is, of course, no logical reason to think that the object in the stele is a laptop. We have no evidence that the ancient Greeks had laptop computers and no laptop computer from ancient Greece has ever been found by archaeologists. The closest thing we have to an “ancient Greek computer” is the Antikythera mechanism, which, as I explain in this article I published in December 2019, is only technically a “computer” in the broadest possible sense and is nothing at all like a modern digital computer.

    When I first looked at a photograph of the notorious stele, my initial guess was that the object in the slave’s hands was probably a wax writing tablet, since it looks very much like writing tablets depicted in other works of Greek and Roman art, which are often hinged wooden boxes with wax on the inside. On the other hand, Jeffrey Spier, the senior curator of antiquities at the J. Paul Getty Museum, says that it is probably a shallow box or a mirror.

    ABOVE: Photograph of the ancient Greek funerary stele in the Getty Villa depicting a wealthy woman looking at an object—probably a shallow box, a mirror, or a wax writing tablet—held by her slave

    By Owen Jarus June 14, 2016

    No cameras were around thousands of years ago when the ancient Egyptians built the three pyramids of Giza, for each of three pharaohs Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure.

    And so scientists have had to piece together clues as to how these towering monuments were constructed. Over the past two decades, a series of new discoveries and studies allowed researchers to paint a clearer picture of those feats. 

    Giza pyramids

    The first, and largest, pyramid at Giza was built by the pharaoh Khufu (reign started around 2551 B.C.). His pyramid, which today stands 455 feet (138 meters) tall, is known as the "Great Pyramid" and was considered to be a wonder of the world by ancient writers.

    Related: Who built the Egyptian pyramids?

    The pyramid of Khafre (reign started around 2520 B.C.) was only slightly smaller than Khufu's but stood on higher ground. Many scholars believe that the Sphinx monument, which lies near Khafre's pyramid, was built by Khafre, and that the face of the Sphinx was modeled after him. The third pharaoh to build a pyramid at Giza was Menkaure (reign started around 2490 B.C.), who opted for a smaller pyramid that stood 215 feet (65 m) high.

    Over the past two decades, researchers have made a number of discoveries related to the pyramids, including a town built near the pyramid of Menkaure, a study showing how water can make blocks easier to move and a papyrus found by the Red Sea. These have allowed researchers to gain a better understanding of how the Giza pyramids were built. The new finds add to older knowledge gained over the last two centuries.

    Developing pyramid-building techniques

    The techniques used to build the Giza pyramids were developed over a period of centuries, with all of the problems and setbacks that any modern-day scientist or engineer would face.

    Pyramids originated from simple rectangular "mastaba" tombs that were being constructed in Egypt over 5,000 years ago, according to finds made by archaeologist Sir Flinders Petrie. A major advance occurred during the reign of the pharaoh Djoser (reign started around 2630 B.C). His mastaba tomb at Saqqara started off as a simple rectangular tomb before being developed into a six-layered step pyramid with underground tunnels and chambers.

    Another leap in pyramid-building techniques came during the reign of the pharaoh Snefru (reign started around 2575 B.C.) who built at least three pyramids. Rather than constructing step pyramids, Snefru's architects developed methods to design smooth-faced, true pyramids.

    It appears that Snefru's architects ran into trouble. One of the pyramids he constructed at the site of Dahshur is known today as the "bent pyramid" because the angle of the pyramid changes partway up, giving the structure a bent appearance. Scholars generally regard the bent angle as being the result of a design flaw.

    Snefru's architects would correct the flaw; a second pyramid at Dahshur, known today as the "red pyramid" — so named after the color of its stones — has a constant angle, making it a true pyramid.

    Snefru's son, Khufu, would use the lessons from his father and earlier predecessors to construct the "Great Pyramid," the largest pyramid in the world.

    Planning the pyramids

    The pharaohs appointed a high-ranking official to oversee pyramid construction. In 2010, a team of archaeologists discovered papyri dating to the reign of Khufu at the site of Wadi al-Jarf on the Red Sea. Text on the papyri stated that in the 27th year of Khufu's reign, the pharaoh's half-brother, Ankhaf, was the vizier (highest official to serve the king in ancient Egypt) and "chief for all the works of the king," archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard wrote in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

    While the papyri said that Ankhaf was in charge during the pharaoh's 27th year, many scholars believe it's possible that another person, possibly the vizier Hemiunu, was in charge of pyramid building during the earlier part of Khufu's reign. 

    Researchers are working to understand the sophisticated planning that would have been involved in pyramid building, which required constructing not just the pyramids, but also the temples, boat pits and cemeteries located near the enormous structures.

    Researchers have noted that the Egyptians had the ability to align structures to true north very precisely, something that may have helped in planning the pyramids. Glen Dash, an engineer who studies the pyramids at Giza as part of Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA), noted that Khufu's pyramid is aligned to true north within one-tenth of a degree. How the ancient Egyptians did this is not fully clear. In a report published recently in an AERA newsletter, Dash wrote that a circumpolar star like Polaris and lines of rope were likely used as part of the method.

    Supplies and food

    Over the past few years archaeologists with AERA have been excavating and studying a port at Giza that would have been used to bring in supplies, food and people. The papyri found at Wadi al-Jarf allude to the importance of Giza's ports, saying that limestone blocks, used in the outer casing of the pyramid, were shipped from quarries to the pyramid sites within a few days using boat transport.

    The port that AERA archaeologists found is located by a town built near Menkaure's pyramid. This town had sizable homes for high officials, a barracks complex that likely held troops and buildings where large numbers of clay seals (used in record keeping) were found. The ordinary workers likely slept in simple dwellings near the pyramid site.  

    Estimates given by various archaeologists for the size of the workforce at Giza tend to hover around 10,000 people for all three pyramids. These people were well-fed; in a study published in 2013, Richard Redding, the chief research officer at AERA, and colleagues found that enough cattle, sheep and goats were slaughtered every day to produce 4,000 pounds of meat, on average, to feed the pyramid builders. The finding was detailed in the book "Proceedings of the 10th Meeting of the ICAZ Working Group 'Archaeozoology of Southwest Asia and Adjacent Areas'" (Peeters Publishing, 2013). Redding used the animal bone remains found at Giza, and the nutritional requirements for a person doing hard labor, to make the discovery.

    Redding also found that animals were brought in from sites on the Nile Delta and kept in a corral until they were slaughtered and fed to the workers.

    The workers' meat-rich diet may have been an inducement for people to work on the pyramids, Redding said. "They probably got a much better diet than they got in their village," Redding told Live Science in 2013.

    Quarrying the blocks

    Many of the stones used in Khufu's pyramid are from a horseshoe-shaped quarry located just south of the pyramid, said Mark Lehner, an Egyptologist who leads AERA, and engineer David Goodman. They published their finds back in 1985 in the journal Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts.

    Construction workers would have used blocks from a quarry located south-southeast of Menkaure's pyramid to build that pyramid, the researchers said. However, it is unclear which quarry was used for Khafre's pyramid.

    When nearly complete, each of the Giza pyramids was furnished with a smooth outer casing made of limestone. Little of this outer casing remains today, having been reused for other building projects in Egypt over the millennia.

    The papyri found at Wadi al-Jarf said that the limestone used in the casing is from a quarry located at Turah, near modern-day Cairo, and was shipped to Giza by boat along the Nile River and a series of canals. One boat trip took four days, the papyri said.

    Moving the blocks

    To move the stones overland, the Egyptians would have used large sledges that could be pushed or pulled by gangs of workers. The sand in front of the sledge was likely dampened with water, something that reduced friction, making it easier to move the sledge, a team of physicists from the University of Amsterdam found in a study published in 2014 in the journal Physical Review Letters.

    "It turns out that wetting Egyptian desert sand can reduce the friction by quite a bit, which implies you need only half of the people to pull a sledge on wet sand, compared to dry sand," Daniel Bonn, a physics professor at the University of Amsterdam and lead author of that study, told Live Science in 2014. The scientists said scenes in ancient Egyptian artwork show water being poured in front of sledges.  

    Most Egyptologists agree that when the stones arrived at the pyramids, a system of ramps was used to haul the stones up. However, Egyptologists are uncertain how these ramps were designed. Little evidence of the ramps survives, but several hypothetical designs have been proposed over the last few decades.

    New data may come from the Scan Pyramids Mission, an initiative being undertaken by researchers at three different universities, the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. This project's scientists are in the process of scanning and reconstructing the Giza pyramids using a variety of technologies. In addition to finding out more about the construction of the pyramids, the project may also reveal if there are any undiscovered chambers within the structures.

    Originally published on Live Science.

    Owen Jarus

    Owen Jarus writes about archaeology and all things about humans' past for Live Science. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University. He enjoys reading about new research and is always looking for a new historical tale.

    By Owen Jarus September 10, 2012

    step pyramid of djoser

    The Step Pyramid of Djoser is the oldest pyramid in Egypt. It was built about 4,700 years ago.

    Constructed at Saqqara about 4,700 years ago, the Step Pyramid of Djoser was the first pyramid the Egyptians built.

    Djoser, sometimes spelled Zoser (though he was actually called Netjerykhet), was a king of Egypt’s third dynasty. The planning of the pyramid has been attributed to Imhotep, a vizier who would later be deified for his accomplishments.

    It started off as a mastaba tomb — a flat-roofed structure with sloping sides — and, through a series of expansions, evolved into a 197-foot-high (60 meters) pyramid, with six layers, one built on top of the other. The pyramid was constructed using 11.6 million cubic feet (330,400 cubic meters) of stone and clay. The tunnels beneath the pyramid form a labyrinth about 3.5 miles (5.5 kilometers) long.

    The pyramid is at the center of a complex 37 acres (15 hectares) in size. This complex is surrounded by a recessed limestone wall that contains 13 fake doorways as well as the real colonnade entrance on the southeast side.

    A temple lies on the north side of the pyramid along with a statue of the king. The statue is surrounded by a small stone structure known as a “serdab,” his eyes peeking out through a hole. To the south of the pyramid lies a great court, with an altar and stones identified as boundary markers.

    A number of facade “dummy” buildings were constructed in the complex, including a series of chapels in the southeast as well as north and south pavilions on the east side of the pyramid. These structures would have served ritual purposes and, curiously, they appear to have been partly buried by their builders, notes Egyptologist Mark Lehner in his book "The Complete Pyramids."

    In the southeast side of the complex, next to the dummy chapels, is a court that would have allowed the king to enact the Heb-Sed jubilee festival, presumably in the afterlife.

    At the southern end of the complex lies the enigmatic “south tomb,” with a chapel. It contains a series of tunnels that mimic those found beneath the pyramid itself. What was buried there is a mystery.

    King’s burial chamber

    Beneath the step pyramid is a bewildering array of tunnels and chambers, the center of which is a 90-foot-deep (28 meters) shaft that, at its bottom, contains the burial chamber of king Djoser. Recent conservation work in the burial chamber reveals fragments of the king’s granite sarcophagus, the names of queens still legible.

    “The step pyramid is the only pyramid in the Old Kingdom that 11 of the king’s daughters were buried inside,” said Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, former minister of state for antiquities, in a 2009 video discussing conservation work at the pyramid. 

    The vault would have initially been decorated with limestone blocks containing five pointed stars, creating a star-filled ceiling. However, for reasons unknown, this decoration was scrapped by its builders in favor of a simpler granite burial chamber. 

    Tunnels and underground 'palace'

    Two passages lead underground and branch off in three directions. They contain three magazine galleries, a special tunnel for food offerings, and an uncompleted chamber that may have acted as an underground “palace” of sorts, albeit one for the afterlife.

    Three false doors contain stele showing the king engaged in rituals. The chamber is decorated with thousands of blue faience tiles imitating the reed matting found in the king’s real life palace in Memphis. This chamber beneath the pyramid was hastily completed. 

    Yet another tunnel, starting on the east side of the pyramid, contains 40,000 stone vessels, many of them belonging to the king’s ancestors. Sarcophagi and human remains were also found.

    Modern-day conservation

    The step pyramid is in a fragile state with estimates suggesting that, without conservation work, the tunnels beneath the pyramid could collapse, the monument being largely gone in a couple of decades.

    An Egyptian-led conservation effort began several years ago and recently a British engineering company called Cintec was called in to aid with efforts. They used giant airbags to hold up the pyramid’s roof while permanent repairs to the structure of the pyramid are carried out.

    Mark of respect

    The construction of the step pyramid would see the beginning of an ambitious pyramid building program that would culminate with the Great Pyramids at Giza. Imhotep, the man attributed with designing the step pyramid, would eventually be regarded as a sort of god.

    Egyptologist Marc Van De Mieroop writes in his book A History of Ancient Egypt, that king Djoser (Netjerykhet) gave Imhotep a rare honor, allowing his name and titles to be carved on the base of one the king’s statues. One of his titles calls him “chief of sculptors,” a phrase fitting for someone who designed the first Egyptian pyramid.

    — Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

    Is democracy getting in the way of saving the planet?

    By Kate Aronoff The Guardian

    XR activists dressed as snails protest against the slow movement towards net-zero emissions in The Hague, Netherlands, on 3 April 2021. Photograph: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock
    XR activists dressed as snails protest against the slow movement towards net-zero emissions in The Hague, Netherlands, on 3 April 2021. Photograph: Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/REX/Shutterstock

    What the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report confirmed this month is that the stable climate many of us grew up with is gone and has been replaced by a fundamentally unstable one. Sea levels will almost certainly rise and storms will get more intense. Amid a drumbeat of depressing news and decades of inaction, there’s a sort of folk wisdom emerging that liberal democracy might just be too slow to tackle a problem as urgent and massive as the climate crisis. It’s an enticing vision: that governments can forgo the messy, deliberative work of politics in favour of a benign dictatorship of green technocrats who will get emissions down by brute force. With a punishingly tiny budget of just 400 gigatonnes of CO2 left to make a decent shot of staying below 1.5C of warming, is it time to give something less democratic a try?

    It would be easy to look at the longstanding stalemate around climate policy in the US, the world’s second biggest emitter and embattled superpower, as evidence that something more top-down is needed. Yet the failure isn’t one of too much democracy but too little. The US Senate empowers West Virginia’s Joe Manchin – a man elected by fewer than 300,000 people – to block the agenda of a president elected by more than 80 million. Climate-sceptical Republicans, backed by corporate interests, have attempted to gerrymander their way to electoral dominance, halting progressive climate action in its tracks. The fossil fuel industry can engulf lawmakers with lobbyists and virtually unlimited campaign donations to sway their votes. And as the Republican party’s leading lights flirt with authoritarians like Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, comprehensive bipartisan climate action remains a pipe dream.

    If a less democratic world is needed to deal with the climate, who are the people who’d like to bring a less democratic world into being? Take Spain’s far-right party Vox, the third largest in the country’s parliament. Having tried climate denial and taken regular jabs at environmental movements and policy, it has unveiled a set of proposals for how to deal with rising temperatures. As Lluis de Nadal wrote for openDemocracy recently, the party’s “true ecology” platform aims to create a national “energy autarchy” and mobilise a green manufacturing renaissance. In France, the far-right National Rally – formerly the Front National – has made ecological politics a key part of its rebrand away from Holocaust denial. Jordan Bardella, the party’s vice-president, has called borders “the environment’s greatest ally”, casting foreigners as rootless cosmopolitans divorced from the land. The aim is not to reach net zero faster – neither party has laid out workable plans to do so – but to endear climate-conscious voters to an ethno-nationalist cause.

    It’s not just the right, however, that has considered a turn away from democracy for the planet’s sake. Back in 2010, the influential climate scientist James Lovelock suggested that it “may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while” to curb emissions. More recently, centrists such as Michael Bloomberg have started to see corporations as more reliable engines of climate progress. As much as US and UK liberals have talked up the promise of spreading democracy throughout the world this century, though, many centrists – as the Progressive International’s David Adler wrote in 2018 – are pretty down on democracy itself. Analysing the World Values and the European Values surveys, Adler found that centrists in wealthy countries were less supportive of democracy than their counterparts on either the left or the far right. Less than half of centrists in the US thought elections were essential; only 25% saw civil rights as a critical feature of democracy.

    Actually existing centrist politicians, meanwhile, such as Emmanuel Macron in France, haven’t shown any willingness to address the climate crisis at the speed or scale it demands. They share a basic weariness about enthusiastic uses of state power to plan out what it is an economy ought to be doing, and cower in the face of major polluters like carmakers and the fossil fuel industry. There are still plenty of austerians hanging around, too, weary of the deficit spending necessary for decarbonisation.

    Openly authoritarian governments hardly fare better. China has rolled out an impressive array of green technologies over the last decade with massive industrial policy. Yet still it continues to prioritise fossil-fuelled growth, with its 14th five-year plan pledging to reduce “emissions intensity” by just 18% through 2025, and the planned opening of 43 new coal-fuelled power stations – not to mention the atrocities that government routinely commits against its own people. In India, now the world’s third biggest emitter, Narendra Modi’s far-right government has made an ambitious pledge to be net zero by 2050, on par with pledges made by long-developed countries such as the US and UK But India, like China, has missed the deadline to update its emissions reduction plan in advance of UN climate talks in Glasgow this November.

    There is simply no class of enlightened technocrats in powerful governments waiting in the wings to save the day. No authoritarians are gunning to decarbonise at the breakneck speed required to avert catastrophe. And no billionaire saviour in the form of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos will rescue our dying planet – they’re both more interested in getting off it than improving it.

    The answer, stubbornly, is more democracy – both within and beyond our borders. Countless millions will be displaced as temperatures soar, meaning national boundaries are bound to become more porous. Our conceptions of democracy should too, to see those living downstream from the west’s massive historical emissions as deserving of citizenship and a say in how – and how quickly – decarbonisation happens. “A proposal for curbing emissions from the developed world so that the billion individuals who live without electricity can enjoy its benefits would probably pass in a landslide in a world referendum,” the writer and filmmaker Astra Taylor has argued, “but it would likely fail if the vote were limited to people in the wealthiest countries.”

    A best-case scenario detailed in their report by IPCC scientists, Shared Socioeconomic Economic Pathway 1, involves “more inclusive development” and unprecedented collaboration among the world’s governments to manage the global commons. In the less upbeat SSP3, “resurgent nationalism” and “concerns about competitiveness and security” start to emerge as countries go their own way in trying to adapt to and (more rarely) mitigate rising temperatures.

    Roads away from democracy all lead to climate chaos. There’s no easy alternative on offer of course. The illiberal right is ascending much faster than the socialist left that has long sought to extend democracy into political systems, homes, and workplaces. The best hope in the short term is for a popular front to browbeat the middling centrists who claim to “believe science” into actually acting on it, and beating back the illiberal right accordingly.

    • Kate Aronoff is a writing fellow at In These Times

    With global climate change threatening to wreak havoc on their industry, insurance companies are increasingly looking to limit their exposure to the fossil fuel sector.

    "This was not an issue that was central even seven years ago, ” said Robin Edger, national director of climate change for the Insurance Bureau of Canada. “But now it is moving at light speed.”
    In the past three years, 23 major global insurance companies have adopted policies that end or limit insurance for the coal industry, and nine insurers have ended or limited insurance for the Canadian oilsands.

    Other insurance companies are making changes on the asset side of their books, divesting fossil fuel investments and adding green energy to their investment portfolios. ln July, eight of the world's largest insurance companies — including Swiss Re, Zurich Insurance Group and Aviva — committed to transitioning their portfolios to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

    There is no silver bullet to solve the problem, experts generally agree. But Kershaw says it helps to at least frame the problem as one that disproportionately hurts young people. “The deck is stacked against younger Canadians,” he said.

    Among a slew of proposals, the Liberals committed to building 1.1, million homes within four years by easing regulations on construction and eliminating some red tape. The party would also double the first- time home buyers’ tax credit from $5,000 to $10,000 as an incentive to help with the closing costs associated with buying property.

    Trudeau said he would force the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation to slash mortgage insurance rates by 25 per cent, marking $6,100 in savings for the average Canadian. Further, he introduced a savings account where Canadians up to age 40 could place up to $40,000, not subject to income tax, toward their first home and withdraw it when it comes time to buy property.

    On the transparency side, Trudeau presented a home buyers’ “bill of rights” that would ban blind bidding and require more disclosure from realtors who represent both the buyer and seller. The bill would also ban foreign buyers from purchasing Canadian homes for the next two years and introduce an “anti-flipping tax" on residential properties that would require homeowners to pay hefty taxes if they bought and sold their house within 12 months.

    David Macdonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said some of these proposals have the potential to make housing less expensive if implemented properly — while some have the potential to make housing more expensive.

    “The doubling of the first-time home buyers tax credit, as well as the reduction in CMHC mortgage insurance payments are likely to increase prices in the long term, because they will allow people more money that will then allow them to take on heavier mortgages, " Macdonald said. “They'll just bid house prices up higher.”

    To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.

    by Eugene Robinson Columnist, Washington Post, August 9, 2021

    The U.N.’s dire climate report confirms: We’re out of time

    If the world immediately takes bold, coordinated action to curb climate change, we face a future of punishing heat waves, deadly wildfires and devastating floods — and that’s the optimistic scenario, according to an alarming new U.N. report. If, on the other hand, we continue down the road of half-measures and denial that we’ve been stuck on since scientists first raised the alarm, the hellscape we leave to our grandchildren will be unrecognizable.

    Almost 30 years ago, I covered the first “Earth Summit” of world leaders in Rio de Janeiro, at which the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its initial assessment of what our spewing of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere was doing to the planet.

    That 1992 document is modest about what researchers, at the time, could not be sure of. They admitted there was a chance they might be seeing “natural climate variability.” They thought “episodes of high temperatures” would become more frequent, but they couldn’t be sure. The “unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect” was still in the future.

    The IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report, released Monday, makes clear there is no longer any reason to use such guarded language — and no longer any fig leaf of scientific uncertainty to shield governments or individuals who would continue to temporize.

    “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” the report says in its summary for policymakers. “Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred… Human-induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe.” There is now strong evidence of “observed changes in extremes such as heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones, and, in particular, their attribution to human influence.”

    As if you didn’t already know that.

    The second-biggest wildfire in California’s recorded history is now burning out of control, having destroyed the Gold Rush town of Greenville, the latest in a string of fires in the state. An apocalyptic fire season is plaguing not just western North America but southern Europe as well, including blazes that are devastating Greece’s second-largest island. Earlier this summer, an unprecedented “heat dome” set astonishing new temperature records in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada, including an all-time high for anywhere in Canada: 121 degrees in Lytton, British Columbia, a town that was mostly destroyed the following day by wildfire.

    Last month, an almost biblical deluge caused flooding in Germany and Belgium that swept away picturesque towns and killed more than 200 people. Coastal megacities such as Lagos, Nigeria, are struggling to cope with frequent and widespread flooding — caused by an average rise in sea levels, according to the new IPCC report, of nearly 8 inches since the beginning of the 20th century. Oceans are rising because glaciers and ice sheets are melting and because warmer water occupies more volume than cooler water.

    All of this is the result of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit of global warming — caused by human activity that has boosted the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 47 percent and vastly increased the concentration of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas. And we are stuck with the consequences of our irresponsibility: “Global surface temperature will continue to increase until at least the mid-century under all emissions scenarios considered,” the IPCC says.

    So we have no choice but to adapt to the warmer world we have created and now must live in. We don’t know what caused the shocking and deadly Surfside, Fla., condominium collapse, for example, but we would be foolish not to reexamine oceanside building codes to account for rising seas. We would be foolish not to revise our methods of forest management to cope with extreme heat, drought and fire.

    An even bigger challenge is finding ways for billions of people in the developing world to attain middle-class living standards via sustainable energy sources rather than the burning of fossil fuels. China is by far the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide; India’s emissions are rising fast. People in the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia want lives of comfort and plenty, just like ours.

    That is why massive investment in new technologies, such as solar power and energy storage, has to be such an urgent priority. At the rate we’re going, the world could warm by nearly 8 degrees Fahrenheit — by the end of this century, according to the IPCC. Relatively few of us who are alive today would still be around to witness what we have wrought. But we know we need to change our ways. Our descendants will curse our memory if we fail to act.

    Reduce methane or face climate catastrophe, scientists warn

    Exclusive: IPCC says gas, produced by farming, shale gas and oil extraction, playing ever-greater role in overheating planet

    Cutting carbon dioxide is not enough to solve the climate crisis – the world must act swiftly on another powerful greenhouse gas, methane, to halt the rise in global temperatures, experts have warned.

    Leading climate scientists will give their starkest warning yet – that we are rushing to the brink of climate catastrophe – in a landmark report on Monday. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish its sixth assessment report, a comprehensive review of the world’s knowledge of the climate crisis and how human actions are altering the planet. It will show in detail how close the world is to irreversible change.

    One of the key action points for policymakers is likely to be a warning that methane is playing an ever greater role in overheating the planet. The carbon-rich gas, produced from animal farming, shale gas wells and poorly managed conventional oil and gas extraction, heats the world far more effectively than carbon dioxide – it has a “warming potential” more than 80 times that of CO2 – but has a shorter life in the atmosphere, persisting for about a decade before it degrades into CO2.


    Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development and a lead reviewer for the IPCC, said methane reductions were probably the only way of staving off temperature rises of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, beyond which extreme weather will increase and “tipping points” could be reached. “Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040,” he said. “We need to face this emergency.”

    Zaelke said policymakers must heed the IPCC findings on methane before the UN climate talks, Cop26, in Glasgow in November. “We need to see at Cop26 a recognition of this problem, that we need to do something on this.”

    Cutting methane could balance the impact of phasing out coal, a key goal at Cop26 because it is the dirtiest fossil fuel and has caused sharp rises in emissions in recent years. However, coal use has a perverse climate effect: the particles of sulphur it produces shield the Earth from some warming by deflecting some sunlight.

    That means the immediate effect of cutting coal use could be to increase warming, although protecting the Earth in the medium and long term. Zaelke said cutting methane could offset that. “Defossilisation will not lead to cooling until about 2050. Sulphur falling out of the atmosphere will unmask warming that is already in the system,” he said.

    “Climate change is like a marathon – we need to stay in the race. Cutting carbon dioxide will not lead to cooling in the next 10 years, and beyond that our ability to tackle climate change will be so severely compromised that we will not be able to run on. Cutting methane gives us time

    Levels of methane have risen sharply in recent years, caused by shale gas, poorly managed conventional gas, oil drilling and meat production. Last year, methane emissions rose by a record amount, according to the UN environment programme.

    Satellite data shows that some of the key sources of methane are poorly managed Russian oil and gas wells. Gas can be extracted from conventional drilling using modern techniques that all but eliminate “fugitive” or accidental methane emissions. But while countries such as Qatar take care over methane, Russia, which is a party to the 2015 Paris climate agreement but has made little effort to cut its emissions, has some of the leakiest infrastructure.

    “Today more than 40% of EU gas is methane heavy gas from Russia, which is worse than coal for the climate,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former Clinton White House climate adviser now with the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. “The EU should begin to measure and then regulate methane emissions from all its natural gas imports to begin a cleanup of global natural gas.”

    Reducing methane emissions can save money. The UN’s assessment found that about half of the reductions in methane needed could be achieved with a quick payback.

    Zaelke urged governments to consider crafting a new deal, alongside the Paris agreement, that would cover methane and require countries to sharply reduce their gas. “I predict we will have to have a global methane agreement,” he said.

    Methane is also produced by melting permafrost, and there have been indications that the Siberian heatwave could increase emissions of the gas. However, large-scale emissions from permafrost melting are thought to be still some way off, while emissions of methane from agriculture and industry can be tackled today.

    Climate and energy news
    UK: Calls for government to step up climate action with 100 days to COP26 summitPress Association via ITV NewsCampaigners are calling on the UK government to “ramp up its domestic climate action and diplomacy” ahead of hosting the COP26 climate summit later this year, Press Association reports. It adds: “Campaigners are accusing [prime minister] Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak of being ‘missing in action’, as they stage a protest in Parliament Square to mark 100 days to the conference, and ahead of a gathering of ministers in London to discuss plans for the summit.” The Guardian also carries the story and reports: “[A]s [COP president Alok] Sharma prepares for a key meeting of world ministers this weekend, and as the US steps up its diplomacy before COP26, climate experts and veterans of the UN talks told the Guardian that Johnson was failing to take the reins, both internationally and at home.” The Sun interviews Sharma about the diplomacy ahead of COP26, under the headline: “We CAN fight climate change...but only if China and Russia do their bit too, says Alok Sharma.”In related UK developments, the Guardian reports that the government is facing “the threat of legal action over plans to allow exploration at the Cambo oilfield near Shetland after promising to put an end to new oil exploration licences that do not align with the UK’s climate goals”. In an interview with Channel 4 News, International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol says he hopes the UK will be an “inspiration for the rest of the world” as the government considers the Cambo decision. He tells the broadcaster: “If we want to reach net-zero in 2050, namely, to have a temperature increase, maximum 1.5C...we have to reduce the consumption of oil, gas and coal substantially. And if we reduce the consumption of oil in line with what is needed to reach those targets, we will not need to invest in new oil or gas exploration or new coal mining. Very clear. We do not need any more to explore, discover, new oil reserves. The ones we have already today are more than enough to meet the demand.” Press Association via Belfast Telegraph reports: “Cambo drilling plans incompatible with climate change targets, Greens warn.”Meanwhile, BBC News reports that road planners “can effectively ignore climate change when they are deciding whether to grant permission for new road schemes, environmentalists have said”. It adds that transport secretary Grant Shapps has “promised a review of [the government’s] £27bn highways policy which will be completed within two years”. The Independent says the government is to review its £27bn road investment plan “because of ‘fundamental’ changes in travel patterns brought on by the Covid pandemic”. It adds: “The move was given a cautious welcome by the climate campaigners who had demanded the government’s ‘outdated’ roads strategy was updated to reflect commitments to tackle climate change.BBC News political correspondent Chris Mason reports from Whitehaven in Cumbria, site of a proposed new coal mine, under the headline: "Climate change, a coalmine and a town that needs jobs.” Finally, the i newspaper reports that a group of MPs and peers is to introduce legislation that would set government targets for making homes more energy efficient. It reports: “The Minimum Energy Performance of Buildings Bill, tabled in the Commons by Conservative MP David Amess, and in the Lords by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Foster, would mandate the Government to ensure that all privately rented homes are band C by 2028, with commercial buildings following by 2030 and all homes in band C by 2035...Officials from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) have indicated privately that they are likely to support the Bill.”
    China flood death toll rises to 33, stoking climate change debateChristian Shepherd, Financial TimesThe official death toll from the devastating floods in central China rose to 33 on Thursday, the Financial Times reports, adding that the “record-breaking rainfall...ha[s] raised fears that the country’s early warning systems remain ill-equipped to handle extreme weather events worsened by climate change”. It continues: “China officially accepts the science of climate change and president Xi Jinping has made it a political priority to cap the country’s carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and reach ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2060. But it is rare for Communist party officials to link individual weather events to broader ecological shifts. Unlike recent flooding in Europe, Chinese state media and officials have avoided connecting the floods in Henan to climate change.” (See the tweets by Carbon Brief’s Hongqiao Liu on this issue.)Separately, Reuters reports that the floods “are threatening supply chains for goods ranging from cars and electronics to pigs, peanuts and coal”. It adds: “Transport of coal, which generates most of China’s power, from top mining regions like Inner Mongolia and Shanxi via Zhengzhou to central and eastern China was ‘severely impacted’, the state planner said on Wednesday, just as power plants scramble for fuel to meet peak summer demand.”Another Reuters article says that “at least 18 people have died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooding that submerged low lying areas and cut off hundreds of villages”. The latest disaster comes just days after extreme rainfall fatally struck Mumbai in the same state.Meanwhile, a Bloomberg article looks at how the “jet stream is [the] key link in climate disasters” including the floods and recent heatwaves and fires. It says: “Deadly weather as far apart as China, Germany and the US reveal the devastating impact of a swinging jet stream.” And the Washington Post has an article headlined: “Summer of floods: The climate connection behind deadly downpours around the world.” See last year’s Carbon Brief article on the jet stream and weather extremes for more.
    Merkel: Germany has not done enough to hit Paris climate targetsPhilip Oltermann, The GuardianSeveral publications report the comments of German chancellor Angela Merkel who, says the Guardian, “has conceded Germany’s record on reducing carbon emissions was ‘not sufficient’ to meet the global warming targets of the Paris climate agreement”. The paper reports: “Not just Germany, but the whole world had failed to meet its targets, she said. ‘I am equipped with sufficient sense for science to see that objective circumstances demand that we can’t continue at the current pace but have to up the tempo,’ Merkel said.” Reuters also has the story. Meanwhile, Politico reports on “how Germany’s big parties line up on climate, mobility policy”. A comment for the New York Times says of Germany’s recent floods: “Nearly 20 years on from our last major flood, the conclusion is inescapable: Climate change is right here, right now, and it hurts. But you wouldn’t know that from the country’s politics. Coming just two months before September’s momentous elections, which will decide who replaces chancellor Angela Merkel after 16 years in power, the catastrophe has so far done strangely little to shake up the contest.” A feature for Reuters looks at the aftermath of the floods and how they have “highlight[ed] the vulnerability of Europe’s top economy to an increasingly unpredictable climate”.
    G20 agrees statement on environment, struggles over climate progressGavin Jones, ReutersEnvironment and energy ministers from the G20 group of rich nations have agreed a statement on the environment, Reuters reports: “The seven-page document covered numerous subjects including food security, the sustainable use of water, marine litter, sustainable finance and how to better educate the young on climate issues, said Italian Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani. A summary released by his office was short on concrete policy commitments, but nonetheless Cingolani called the result ‘particularly ambitious’ and said it reflected the aims of Italy’s G20 presidency.” The newswire adds that the G20 climate and energy statement is on the agenda for today: “Friday’s statement, directly addressing climate change commitments, is likely to prove more challenging.” It reports: “Barring last-minute progress, it looks unlikely the Naples G20 gathering will make reference to the $100bn [pledge of climate finance made by rich nations in 2009 and not yet met] or make any other firm financial pledges.” It adds that “a cluster of countries [are] resisting firm commitments”.
    Climate change: Airbus aims for 'climate-neutral' flights by 2035Brendon Williams, BBC NewsA senior manager at aircraft maker Airbus says that zero-emissions planes will be flying by mid-century, reports BBC News. It adds: “Airbus has set a target of commercial ‘climate-neutral’ flights by 2035, with hydrogen as a primary power source.” It quotes Gareth Davies, Airbus head of industrial architecture for wing, saying: “We have a challenge today to try and symbolically get towards a zero emissions product by around 2050...So, essentially, we’re looking at by the mid-point of the century, that we will have products flying with that target and with that goal.” The Guardian reports on a hearing in parliament under the headline: “Airlines need to do more than plant trees to hit net-zero, MPs told.”Elsewhere, a commentary for Green Air by climate scientists Keith Shine and David Lee argues against the implementation of “navigational avoidance” a proposal to limit non-carbon dioxide warming impacts of flying: “[I]n reality, many years’ research is needed to establish whether it is viable...Rather than decreasing aviation’s climate impact, premature implementation of the strategy risks increasing it.”
    Climate and energy comment
    A 3C world has no safe placeEditorial, The Economist“The most terrible thing about the spectacular scenes of destruction that have played out around the world over the past weeks is that there is no safe place from which to observe them,” says an editorial in the Economist, part of a package featuring on the magazine’s frontpage. The editorial continues: “Unfortunately, 2021 will probably be one of the 21st century’s coolest years.” The piece goes on to consider the implications of the 3C world that is expected to result “even if everyone manages to honour today’s firm pledges” and concludes: “Cutting emissions is thus not enough. The world also urgently needs to invest in adapting to the changing climate.” The editorial adds “it is also prudent to study the most spectacular, and scary, form of adaptation: solar geoengineering”. An accompanying feature in the Economist is titled: “Three degrees of global warming is quite plausible and truly disastrous.” Another Economist article looks at how the “private sector [is] start[ing] to invest in climate adaptation”.Elsewhere, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times says climate change is “driving extreme floods, wildfires and heat” and asks: “Will the world meet the moment?” It concludes: “As the last few weeks have shown, there’s no time to waste. The summer has already given a terrible glimpse of the future if we don’t change course now.” An editorial in the Washington Post runs under the headline: “Hey, world, are you noticing? Floods! Fires! Could it be time to do something about climate change?” It says there are “two lessons” of recent extreme weather events: “First, we must reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming. Second, even as we do so, we must prepare for the temperature rise that is unavoidable.” A comment for the Washington Post by columnist Eugene Robinson says: “We are fiddling while the world burns, floods and chokes.” In the New York Times “on politics” column, Maggie Astor writes under the headline: “The west is burning. Covid is surging. US politics are stagnant.” Another New York Times comment by Spencer Bokat-Lindell, an editor for the paper’s opinion section, asks: “Where is Biden’s climate change revolution?” Separately, analysis from Axios says wildfires in the US, Canada and Siberia are “unusually intense” for the time of year “and emitting larger amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than typical during midsummer”.
    With 100 days until COP26, the Paris agreement pledges are crucialChristiana Figueres, Financial TimesA number of commentators mark 100 days to COP26 including in the Financial Times, where former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres writes:“In 100 days time the same 195 governments [that met in Paris in 2015] will gather in Glasgow at COP26, a necessary moment of truth. Under the Paris deal all countries must deliver new, tougher emission cuts.” She continues: “Success at COP26 depends on three elements: first, all G20 countries must commit to cutting emissions by at least 45%. To leaders in China, India and Australia who are yet to deliver 2030 targets, I say this: it is in your economic self-interest to accelerate your shift from coal-based electricity and start to address your looming transport emissions...Second: the world’s wealthiest nations must deliver on their pledges...Third: CEOs of the world’s leading corporations must face the reality that only through preventing the crisis can they have business continuity.”For the Times Red Box, former UN climate envoy Rachel Kyte writes under the headline: “The clock is ticking to make COP26 a success.” She says “we need commitment and leadership in action, not just words” and adds: “The what – net-zero emissions by 2050 – must come with a how – clarity on structural changes and policies to drive achievement.”
    Suga’s net-zero pledge sparks fierce debateRobin Harding, Financial TimesA feature in a special supplement on Japan and sustainability in the Financial Times recounts how new prime minister Yoshihide Suga used his first address to parliament to pledge that the country would reach net-zero emissions by 2050, a “surprise” move that is “forcing Japan to rethink its energy strategy”. Other features in the FT supplement include one titled: “Sun fails to shine on Japan’s solar sector.” Another look at how “High costs dog Tokyo’s hydrogen buses”. (The Economist has a feature on Japan’s hopes of becoming a “hydrogen superpower”.) A third Financial Times piece says Japan is “fac[ing] heat” over financial support for a coal plant in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports: “Australia’s reliance on gas exports questioned as Japan winds down fossil fuel power.”
    The Saudi Prince of oil prices vows to drill 'every last molecule'Javier Blas, BloombergA profile of Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, by Bloomberg’s Javier Blas, quotes him saying: “We are still going to be the last man standing, and every molecule of hydrocarbon will come out.” The piece also recounts how bin Salman “got his way” at last year’s G20 meeting where “European ministers wanted a greener statement; Saudi Arabia didn’t...The communiqué that emerged endorsed several of Saudi Arabia’s pet fixes to the climate crisis.”
    New climate science
    The recent emergence of Arctic AmplificationGeophysical Research LettersAccording to a new study, Arctic amplification – the phenomenon that sees the frigid north warming at a faster rate than the rest of the globe – emerged much more recently than previously thought. Using observations and palaeoclimate records spanning the last century, combined with climate model simulations, researchers show that the region was actually cooling over much of the 20th century, even as global average temperatures rose. The researchers attribute this trend to a combination of local aerosol forcing and natural variability that contributed to a cooler climate in the Arctic. The authors write that this “disruption” of the amplification effect is likely “unique” to the 20th century – and that Arctic amplification is expected to be a “consistent feature” under a warming climate.
    Other stories
    Multi-trillion dollar opportunity: BNEF charts course to a net-zero global energy systemMichael Holder, BusinessGreen
    Britain's National Grid confident of sufficient winter power supplySusanna Twidale, Reuters
    Mercedes-Benz going all-electric by 2025Celine Castronuovo, The Hill
    Electric vehicles release fewer greenhouse gases even charged on grid using 'dirty' power like coalDan Avery, MailOnline
    Startup claims breakthrough in long-duration batteriesRussell Gold, The Wall Street Journal
    China aims to install over 30GW of new energy storage by 2025Muyu Xu and Dominique Patton, Reuters
    Bets on electric vehicles light up lithium miners and battery makersHenry Sanderson, Financial Times
    EDF seeks data review on report of possible China radiation leakTom Mitchell, David Keohane and Sun Yu, Financial Times
    Thermal coal prices soar as demand for electricity reboundsNeil Hume, Financial Times
    Whether or not the Great Barrier Reef is listed as ‘in danger’ won’t alter the fact it is at risk from climate changeGraham Readfearn, The Guardian
    US Treasury's Yellen tells development banks to mobilize private capital for climate fightDavid Lawder, Reuters
    Floating wind turbines could rise to great heightsThe Economist
    What to expect from the next major global climate reportSara Schonhardt, E&E News via Scientific American
    European business groups voice support for new 'Fit for 55' climate agenda while lobbying to water it downNick Cunningham, DeSmog
    Comment: The left is the only reason we're talking about climate change at allKate Aronoff, The New Republic
    ‘A recipe for catastrophic fire’: How an Oregon blaze became the nation's largestSergio Olmos, Henry Fountain and Simon Romero, [objectThe New York Times Object]
    Comment: What I saw in Yosemite was devastatingSusannah Meadows, The New York Times
    Climate crisis turns world's subways into flood zonesHiroko Hiroko Tabuchi and John Schwartz, The New York Times
    Climate action must happen 'for our people, not to them', cities sayLaurie Goering, Thomson Reuters Foundation
    ‘Something’s not right’: Northern Irish townland has its 31.2C day in the sunRory Carroll, The Guardian
    Climate change calculator lets Britons estimate impact of green choices - from home heating to meat-free dietsVictoria Seabrook, Sky News

    At the time of this case, James was a 4-year-old boy from Louisiana. And

    he believed he was once a World War II pilot who had been shot down over Iwo Jima, an island that the United States fought to capture in 1945.

    His parents first realized this when James started to have nightmares, waking up and screaming “airplane crash” and “plane on fire.” He knew details about the WWII aircraft that would be impossible for a youngster to know. For example, when his mother referred to an object on the bottom of a model plane as a bomb, she was corrected by James, who informed her that it was a ‘drop tank.’ In another instance, he and his parents were watching a documentary, and the narrator called a Japanese plane a Zero, when James insisted that it was Tony. In both cases, James turned out to be right.

    James also insisted that in his previous life, he had flown off a ship named the Natoma, which, as the Leidingers discovered, was a WW11 aircraft carrier (USS Natoma Bay). James said that his previous name was also James, and shockingly, in the USS Natoma Bay squadron, there was a pilot names James Huston who had been killed in action over the Pacific Ocean.

    Dr. Tucker obtained additional documents for several of James Leininger’s statements, and they were made before anyone in the family had even heard of James Huston or the USS Natoma Baby.

    Ask yourself, how could a two-year-old in Louisiana remember being a World War II pilot shot down over the Pacific?

    The biggest skeptic of this case was the boy’s father, who remarked that he was “the original skeptic, but the information James gave us was so striking and unusual. If someone wants to look at the facts and challenge them, they’re welcome to examine everything we have.” 

    When Kendra began swimming lessons at the age of 4, she immediately developed an emotional attachment to her coach. Shortly after she started her lessons, she began saying that the coach’s baby had died and that the coach had been sick and pushed her baby out. Kendra’s mother was always at her lessons, and when she asked Kendra how she knew these things, her reply was, “I’m the baby that was in her tummy.” Kendra went on to describe an abortion, and her mother later found out that the coach had indeed had an abortion 9 years before Kendra was even born:

    Kendra became happy and bubbly when she was with the coach but quiet otherwise, and her mother let her spend more and more time with the coach until she was staying with her three nights a week. Eventually, the coach had a falling out with Kendra’s mother and cut off contact with the family. Kendra then went into a depression and did not speak for 4.5 months. The coach reestablished more limited contact at that point, and Kendra slowly began talking again and participating in activities. 

    P.M was a boy whose half-brother had died from neuroblastoma 12 years before his birth. The half-brother was diagnosed after he began limping, and then suffered a pathological fracture on his left tibia. He underwent a biopsy of a nodule on his scalp, just above his right ear, and received chemotherapy through a central line in his right external jugular vein. At the time of his death, he was two years old, and blind in his left eye.

    P.M was born with three birthmarks that match the lesions on his half-brother, as well as with a swelling 1cm in diameter above his right ear and a dark, slanting mark on the lower right anterior surface of his neck. He also had what’s known as a ‘corneal leukoma,’ which caused him to be virtually blind in his left eye. As soon as P.M. started to walk, he did so with a limp, sparing his left side, and at around the age of 4.5 years he spoke to his mother about wanting to return to the family’s previous home, describing it with great accuracy. He also spoke of his brother’s scalp surgery even though he had never been told of it before.

    Chanai is a boy from Thailand, who, when he was three years old, began saying that he had been a teacher named Bua Kai who had been shot and killed as he rode his bike to school. He pleaded and begged to be taken to Bua Kai’s parents, who he felt were his own parents. He knew the village where they lived, and eventually convinced his grandmother to take him there. According to the research:

    His grandmother reported that after they got off the bus, Chanai led her to a house where an older couple lived. Chanai appeared to recognize the couple, who were the parents of Bua Kai Lawnak, a teacher who had been shot and killed on the way to school five years before Chanai was born.

    The fascinating thing is that Kai and Chanai had something in common. Kai, who was shot from behind, had small, round wounds on the back of his head, typical of an entry wound, and larger exit wounds on his forehead; Chanai was born with two birthmarks, a small, round birthmark on the back of his head, and a larger, irregularly shaped one towards the front.

    Cyndi Hammons wasn’t considering any of that when her preschool son was pointing himself out in a photo from more than 80 years ago. She wanted to know who that man was.

    The book didn’t provide any names of the actors pictured, but Cyndi quickly confirmed that the man Ryan said was “George" in the photo was indeed a George—George Raft, an all but forgotten film star from the 1930s and 1940s. Still, she couldn’t identify the man Ryan said had been him.Cyndi wrote Tucker, whom she found through her online research, and included the photo. Eventually it ended up in the hands of a film archivist, who, after weeks of research, confirmed the scowling man’s name: Martin Martyn, an uncredited extra in the film.

    Tucker hadn’t shared that discovery with the Hammons family when he traveled to their home a few weeks later. Instead, he laid out black-and-white photos of four women on the kitchen table. Three of them were random.

    Tucker asked Ryan, “Do any of these mean anything to you?”

    Ryan studied the pictures. He pointed to one. She looks familiar, he said.

    It was Martin Martyn’s wife.

    Not long afterward, Tucker and the Hammons traveled to California to meet Martyn’s daughter, who’d been tracked down by researchers working with Tucker on a documentary. Tucker sat down with the woman before her meeting with Ryan. She’d been reluctant to help, but during her talk with Tucker, she confirmed dozens of facts Ryan had given about her father.

    Ryan said he danced in New York. Martyn was a Broadway dancer. Ryan said he was also an “agent,” and that people where he worked had changed their names. Martyn worked for years at a well-known talent agency in Hollywood—where stage names are often created—after his dancing career ended.

    Ryan said his old address had “Rock” in its name. Martyn lived at 825 North Roxbury Dr. in Beverly Hills. Ryan said he knew a man named Senator Five. Martyn’s daughter said she had a picture of her father with a Senator Ives, Irving Ives, of New York, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1947 to 1959.

    And yes, Martin Martyn had three sons. The daughter of course knew their names.

    The meeting later between Ryan and Martyn’s daughter didn’t go well. Ryan shook her hand then hid behind Cyndi for the rest of the time. Later he told his mother the woman’s “energy” had changed. Cyndi explained that people change when they grow up.

    “I don’t want to go back [to Hollywood],” Ryan said. “I always want to keep this family.”

    In the weeks that followed, Ryan spoke less about Hollywood. Tucker says that often happens when children meet the family of someone they claimed to have been. It seems to validate their memories, making them less intense.

    “I think they see that no one is waiting for them in the past,” Tucker says. “Some of them get sad about it, but ultimately they accept it and they turn their attention more fully to the present. They get more involved in experiencing this life, which, of course, is what they should do.”

    Global heating: ‘It’s too late to repair the damage’

    By Heather Mallick Toronto Star3 min

    Enough with the traditional sidewalk egg fry. A Portland, Ore. reporter did that, yawn. I’m guessing you could bake them on your forearm now or poach them in previously iced coffee. If the incoherent rage I see on social media from once-rational people is a symptom of heat stroke, you could boil an egg in people’s feelings right now.

    One of the problems in persuading people to understand the breadth and horror of global heating is that their distress evaporates as soon as they walk into an air-conditioned room. The transition between life being good and life being intolerable is the width of a door.

    But who gets to walk through that door? As the CBC reports, those most at risk are the elderly, children, outdoor workers, homeless people, and those with pre-existing medical conditions.

    I was puzzled by ardent demonstrators recently protesting Toronto’s removal of homeless people from ragged encampments in Trinity Bellwoods and other public parks. The “activists” — with their inexplicable romanticizing of mental illness — hadn’t considered what extreme heat does to people, especially those already fragile.

    I imagine the homeless would like an air-conditioned hotel room or shelter. Now they have one.

    With every season, climate change hits us harder. What do Albertans think about the oil and gas industry that helped cause this disaster? Are they losing faith? Toronto was always a misery in summer, but extreme heat hit us early and it's still only June. I buy table fans the way I buy batteries, casually, almost in bulk, because someone’s going to need them.

    Sometimes I look at a piece of almond-crust blueberry pie or a dubious medication or a dodgy purchase online. I eat it, swallow it, and click on the Buy button. You’ve done it now, I think, the bad decision behind me.

    I often think this about global heating. We chose pleasure, thickened the air, built structures badly, took cheap flights near and far, lavishly paved over green land, owned two or three cars, you know the drill.

    And that’s the key. We’ve done it now. It’s too late to repair the damage. Somehow, I don’t think nations will rally together, given that they didn’t for the pandemic.

    After his final book, “Horizon,” the late environmental writer Barry Lopez told the CBC in 2019 that it’s too late for remedy. We have to realize that “methane gas pouring out of the tundra now is not interested in nation states and these other things that we look to for survival. It’s absolutely indifferent to human survival.”

    We grieve. The Earth does not. It responds naturally to the wounds we inflicted, and god, it is hot out there.

    Lopez was a brilliant writer and a kind man; despite horrors he had endured in his own life. He was resigned, adding, “And everything I look at when I travel says, “Take care of those you are with. And if you can, take care of people you’ve never met.”

    The people who will die from heat, building collapses, road-buckling, land melt and urban flooding are people I will never meet. Forty per cent of buildings in Russia’s north are collapsing now because of melt. Add the number of displaced to the tens of millions of Russians who died from tyranny in previous centuries.

    But Nature does not care about cause. It simply melts some more.

    If you care about muting climate change slightly, you will vote Liberal or left in a possible fall election, not Conservative. That’s basic. You will realize that cyclists, however much you dislike them and their special lanes, are giving you the gift of clean air.

    Density in cities, built with skill and foresight, slows down climate disaster. People will live close enough to help each other. Public parks are a city’s lungs. A footbridge to the Toronto Islands will be our green escape. Every storefront will be made to offer canopy shade. Open-air heat lamps will be banned. Airplane flights will quadruple in price each year. We will have fewer things, better treasured.

    But it’s too late. We know that. We’ve done it now.

    TAs should be formally taught to teach

    By Courtney Miller -May 16, 2016

    We’re all friends here, so we can all agree that a Teaching Assistant (TA) can make or break a course. I’m not suggesting that the university should function without TAs; they provide a crucial service to the school, and a shit-show would ensue if they stopped their work.

    Classes would become exponentially smaller, particularly the lower division undergraduate courses with hundreds of students. There’s no way the professor could take on the workload alone. Thus, instead of the six years it might take to complete a degree (thanks to SFU’s shitty enrolment system), it could take several more years due to class unavailability. It’s more economically efficient to use TAs as ‘mini-profs,’ as they receive less pay and there are many grad students willing to take on the job.

    But the problem is that SFU seems to let any and every interested student take the reigns on tutorials, and mark the assignments and exams that influence our success in class. Unfortunately, not giving TAs any formal education on teaching hinders everyone’s learning opportunities.

    TAs run tutorials, clarify and expound upon material covered by the professor, and then they’re put in charge of our grades. Those grades impact our futures through our access to scholarships, graduate school, and employment. Having a TA who lacks proper teaching qualities, who doesn’t know how to clarify in multiple ways, or who delivers any explanation with condescension and a holier-than-thou attitude has ruined many of the first-year classes I’ve taken.

    One of my psychology TAs would never give me a straight answer, or would just repeat back every question I’d ask, without actually helping me or furthering the discussion. An English TA I once had would expect our work to look completely different from what the professor had asked for — that class was almost the death of me.

    Most faculties publish their TA applications online, and after having browsed through many of them I’m not able to find anything on these applications that asks about teaching ability. Not a single one placed specific importance on the applicants’ interpersonal abilities.

    Now, as with any job, many prospective TAs are in it for the money, experience, and networking opportunities. But some of them also harbour plans to become post-secondary educators.

    The school does both TAs and students a disservice by not requiring any prior teaching ability or graded professional development courses for the TA position. Of course, SFU’s TA Learning Guide states that TAs can attend free orientation and workshops every semester, but they’re optional. Maybe they need to be mandatory.

    Moreover, we have a whole faculty devoted to education. Maybe SFU should find a mutually beneficial professional training program that gives education students experience in teaching people — specifically TAs — how to teach.

    Just because a student has a high GPA and the time to take on the position, doesn’t mean they’re qualified. I know grad students have a lot on their plate, but if SFU invested more time and money in helping these students become better educators, it could pay off for everyone in the long run.

    Plastic bottles have been converted into vanilla flavouring using genetically engineered bacteria, the first time a valuable chemical has been brewed from waste plastic.

    Upcycling plastic bottles into more lucrative materials could make the recycling process far more attractive and effective. Currently plastics lose about 95% of their value as a material after a single use. Encouraging better collection and use of such waste is key to tackling the global plastic pollution problem.

    Researchers have already developed mutant enzymes to break down the polyethylene terephthalate polymer used for drinks bottles into its basic units, terephthalic acid (TA). Scientists have now used bugs to convert TA into vanillin.

    Vanillin is used widely in the food and cosmetics industries and is an important bulk chemical used to make pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and herbicides. Global demand is growing and in 2018 was 37,000 tonnes, far exceeding the supply from natural vanilla beans. About 85% of vanillin is currently synthesised from chemicals derived from fossil fuels.

    Joanna Sadler, of the University of Edinburgh, who conducted the new work, said: “This is the first example of using a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industrial chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy.”

    Stephen Wallace, also of the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our work challenges the perception of plastic being a problematic waste and instead demonstrates its use as a new carbon resource from which high value products can be made.”

    About 1m plastic bottles are sold every minute around the world and just 14% are recycled. Currently even those bottles that are recycled can only be turned into opaque fibres for clothing or carpets.

    The research, published in the journal Green Chemistry, used engineered E coli bacteria to transform TA into vanillin. The scientists warmed a microbial broth to 37C for a day, the same conditions as for brewing beer, Wallace said. This converted 79% of the TA into vanillin.

    Next the scientists will further tweak the bacteria to increase the conversion rate further, he said: “We think we can do that pretty quickly. We have an amazing roboticised DNA assembly facility here.” They will also work on scaling up the process to convert larger amounts of plastic. Other valuable molecules could also be brewed from TA, such as some used in perfumes.

    Ellis Crawford, of the Royal Society of Chemistry, said: “This is a really interesting use of microbial science to improve sustainability. Using microbes to turn waste plastics, which are harmful to the environment, into an important commodity is a beautiful demonstration of green chemistry.”

    Recent research showed bottles are the second most common type of plastic pollution in the oceans, after plastic bags. In 2018, scientists accidentally created a mutant enzyme that breaks down plastic bottles, and subsequent work produced a super-enzyme that eats plastic bottles even faster.

    Click here to see original with links to resources.

    Scientists convert used plastic bottles into vanilla flavouring | Plastics | The Guardian

    Facebook to pay 14 Canadian publishers for some news content posted to platform

    By Tara Deschamps The Canadian Press Posted May 25, 2021, 10:23 pm Updated May 25, 2021, 10:25 pm

    Facebook unveiled a plan Tuesday to pay some Canadian publishers for news stories on its platform, but experts say the move diverts attention from forthcoming regulation efforts. The California-based tech giant said it will pay 14 publishers, including the National Observer, FP Newspapers, Le Devoir, the Tyee and the publisher of Le Soleil undisclosed amounts to link to their articles on its COVID-19 and climate science pages or in other unspecified use cases.

    Deals made under the news innovation test program were also reached with the Coast, the Narwhal, Village Media, the SaltWire Network, the Sprawl, Discourse Media, Narcity, BlogTO and Daily Hive. Facebook would not disclose the value or structure of the deals and would not say if other publishers were approached for the project. It says the program will be multi-year in scope and does not include payments for news links already posted on Facebook by publishers.

    Industry watchers say the deal brings cash to media companies hurting for advertising but believe the arrangement should be viewed as Facebook’s way of getting ahead of potential regulation in Canada without tackling much of the criticism it faces over issues such as privacy concerns and the prevalence of misinformation on its platform. “There are some fundamental problems with Facebook and this glosses over all of that and makes it much, much less likely that Canadian officials will actually consider the possibility of regulating them in ways that will affect these much deeper-seated issues,” said Blayne Haggart, a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and an associate professor of political science at Brock University.

    Those issues, he said, include “pervasive” surveillance practices, data collection strategies, non-co-operation with authorities and a history of hosting misinformation and hateful content. They have cropped up as Canadian media companies have watched their revenues slip away and put much of the blame on big tech.

    A 2018 report from the Canadian Media Concentration Project revealed Google had half the country’s internet advertising market share in 2018, with Facebook trailing at 27.3 per cent and Bell, Torstar, Twitter, and Postmedia sitting at under two per cent each. That equates to $3.8 billion in advertising revenue for Google, up from $2.8 billion in 2016. Facebook made $2.1 billion in advertising in 2018, while Bell made $146 million, Torstar earned $120 million, Twitter got $117.5 million, and Postmedia made $116.4 million.

    Meanwhile, the federal government is in the process of considering legislation that could force tech companies to pay for news on their platforms and dole out penalties when problematic content is not removed quickly. Other countries are dealing with similar considerations. Australia, for example, unveiled plans earlier this year to make social media companies negotiate payments to publishers there. Facebook responded by quickly blocking Australian users from posting or seeing links to local or international news websites, only to reverse course days later.

    Facebook on Tuesday declined an interview to discuss its latest media efforts, but the company’s global director and head of public policy said in a statement that the program supports journalism and will allow the company “to partner even more closely with publishers to help them build sustainable business models.” Haggart, however, believes the efforts announced continue to embed Facebook in the media ecosystem and build publishers’ dependency on a “single, foreign and capricious platform.”

    Facebook said that in January 2021 alone, the platform and Google generated 24 million page views for Village Media for free, which the publisher calculates is worth about $480,000. “What’s good for Facebook becomes what’s good for Le Devoir, or Village Media or BlogTO or whoever and that’s what creates a challenge and distracts from the fundamental issues,” said Haggart. Instead of these voluntary deals Facebook offers media, he thinks the company needs to be much more heavily regulated than it is now, and authorities should be taking a greater interest in ensuring the news the platform shares is of quality.

    Daniel Bernhard, the executive director of media watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, said he would like to see Facebook forced to make fair deals with publishers and if they can’t reach agreeable terms, head to binding arbitration. That proposal is reminiscent of what’s underway in Australia and stops Facebook from unilaterally deciding how much to pay or offering publishers a “take it or leave it” deal, said Bernhard. He said the latest Facebook initiative is happening because governments have been slow to regulate technology firms.

    “I hope that regulators will be able to see the obvious self-interest in this move, which is clearly an attempt to try to pre-empt regulation and say, ‘Don’t worry, nothing to see here,”’ said Bernhard. “But I think they’ve actually proved even more strongly … that publishers need to receive a fair price for use of their content from these trillion-dollar American companies.”

    © 2021 The Canadian Press

    Rethinking meritocracy to save democracy, Steve Paikin

    Former Ontario premier Bill Davis used to have an expression: “If we get education right, everything else falls into place.”

    Surely, Davis knew the truth of that maxim better than most. Before he became premier in 1971, he was education minister. During his nine years in that role, Ontario launched an unprecedented number of new schools and universities, the college system, and TVO — the province’s broadcasting window into lifelong learning.

    Davis’s point was this: if a person is well-educated, they can get a better job. With more income, their chances of needing the health-care system or requiring social assistance are reduced. They’ll also be less likely to have interactions with the justice system. The more money they make, the more taxes they’ll pay — and the better all our public services will be.

    And for Ontario’s 18th premier, it all started with education.

    I remind readers of this notion because some new thinking in academic circles may be challenging it like never before. For the past decade, the idea that academic credentials reflect a person’s intelligence has been an embittering flash point between the so-called smarty-pants set and those who will never set foot on an Ivy League campus.

    Harvard University philosopher Michael Sandel is a leading thinker on meritocracy. At first blush, you might think he’s being a traitor to his academic class by arguing against a society based on merit. In fact, in his most recent book, “The Tyranny of Merit,” he’s making an argument for something that’s crucial to improving democracy.

    “We should focus less on arming people for meritocratic combat,” he said on “The Agenda” recently, “and focus more on making life better for people who make valuable contributions through the work they do, even though they may not have the lustrous credentials a meritocratic society so prizes.”

    Sandel wants to put the dignity of work rather than upward mobility at the centre of politics. He and many others believe Donald Trump’s 2016 election win was a shot across the bow of the elites, for whom the status quo is working just fine, thank you.

    Conversely, millions of Americans who do society’s tough, unglamorous jobs for minimal pay and little recognition are tiring of their inability to get ahead. The global pandemic has surely shone a bright light on the truck drivers, shelf-stockers, and personal-support workers, who are understandably sick of society’s lack of gratitude for their contributions and are only now getting the recognition they deserve.

    It’s not hard to see why, despite being a disgraceful person with little interest in the rules of democracy, Trump won the votes of this demographic. He once said on the stump: “I love the poorly educated.” The panellists on CNN might have sneered when he said it, but red-state America knew a love letter when it heard one.

    In some ways, it may seem odd to want to restructure society such that the smartest among us don’t necessarily rise to the top. After all, who doesn’t want the best-educated cardiologist performing our heart surgeries? But if we want to improve our democracy and live more harmoniously, we have to acknowledge that it has not delivered the goods for too many among us — and pivot accordingly.

    Does that mean Davis’s original idea was wrong? I don’t think so. Improving one’s economic prospects, or simply enjoying the experience of a post-secondary education, is still a marvellous goal to which I believe as many people as possible should still aspire.

    But, as Sandel says, we’ve got to do it in a way that avoids a corrosive dark side.
    alerts, including up-to-the-minute updates on Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

    “It generates hubris among the winners and humiliation among those left behind,” he said. “Because what it says is that where we land reflects what we deserve.”

    We’ll further discuss these challenges to what seemed like the unambiguous goodness of education — and how they might affect our understanding of democracy — tonight on The Agenda.

    Link to article. Rethinking meritocracy to save democracy | The Star

    Amazon workers are rising up around the world to say: enough!

    Valter Sanches, Christy Hoffman and Casper Gelderblom

    Amazon, the world’s most powerful corporation, is an iceberg.
    Users and consumers see its top: the shops, the streaming service, the packages. But below the surface lies an enormous infrastructure, stretching across continents, linking production, distribution, and delivery. A complex transnational system, populated by workers around the world whose labor drives Amazon’s profits.

    Its chief executive and founder, Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, tries to conceal this system with the comfort and entertainment his services offer. The reason is equally clear and outrageous. From the factories where the products it sells are made, to the doorsteps where they are delivered, Amazon’s global infrastructure is held together by the exploitation of those who operate it.

    Throughout Amazon’s supply chain, Bezos’s behemoth violates workers’ safety, dignity, and privacy, putting them to work in worksites designed to squeeze as much labor out of them for as little money as possible. Workers do not take this lying down. Supported by a myriad of progressive allies, there is labor resistance all over Amazon’s global map, with strikes and protests from Spain to São Paulo, from Delhi to Berlin. On Black Friday last year, as scrutiny over Amazon’s anti-union practices, environmental impact, tax avoidance and worker safety intensified in Europe and the United States, UNI Global Union, IndustriaALL, Progressive International, Oxfam, Greenpeace and dozens of civil society organizations, environmentalists and tax watchdogs organized protest actions in 12 countries, uniting under the banner of Make Amazon Pay.

    Aided by shocking media reports about dangerous and even dehumanizing working conditions, this activism draws attention to Amazon’s treatment of the warehouse workers who stow, store and sort its signature packages. As a result, the corporation’s efforts to conceal its conduct in this part of its global empire are faltering. In the UK, where most Amazon workers are employed in the corporation’s so-called “Fulfillment Centers”, a poll late last year found that only 24% of respondents believed Amazon treated its workers fairly. In the US, where Amazon recently worked to undermine a union campaign in Alabama with tactics that union leaders say prevented a free and fair election and violated federal law, almost 80% of respondents supported the warehouse workers’ struggle.

    In the delivery part of Amazon’s empire, too, workers resist Amazon’s mistreatment. Delivery workers in India recently struck in Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Pune, demanding better pay and employee benefits. During a ground-breaking national strike in Italy, 75% of all Amazon workers in the country stopped work, bringing together warehouse and delivery workers in an inspiring example of cross-supply chain solidarity. Recently, the shockingly common outrage of workers having to pee in bottles due to a lack of adequate break time went viral, bringing delivery workers into the fold of a common front taking on Amazon, and helping expand the public’s conception of Amazon’s workforce.

    However, a crucial part of Amazon’s global infrastructure remains largely concealed. The self-styled Everything Store does not just sell, store and ship products – it also directly sources them. The corporation owns more than 400 private-label brands, selling a wide range of products from garments to electronics. From its Kindle e-readers to its rising apparel empire, Amazon is now the top fashion retailer in the United States – Amazon’s brands draw on an extensive network of some 1,400 factories worldwide.

    Located mostly in countries in the global south, workers in these factories typically work in dire conditions. In Chinese factories producing Amazon devices like Echo and Alexa, investigations have revealed numerous illegal practices, from endless night shifts to underpayment. Last year, the absence of adequate health and safety measures in a Guatemala factory producing garments for Amazon brands saw a major Covid outbreak, endangering the lives of hundreds of workers. As a recent report by the Worker Rights Consortium revealed, Amazon is among a number of powerful multinationals refusing to make sure factory workers laid off during the pandemic get the severance pay they are still owed.

    Amazon is responsible for what happens in the worksites that make up its global empire – and must be held accountable in and across all its regions. Workers themselves are at the forefront of the struggle to make this happen. Like warehouse and delivery workers, factory workers in the last concealed part of Amazon’s global system of exploitation are taking on the corporation. Unionized garment workers who lost their jobs in October when Amazon’s supplier Global Garments closed are demanding the factory reopen, rehire the 1,200 union members and provide them with back pay. In Cambodia, former workers at Amazon’s supplier Hulu Garment are calling on Amazon to ensure their full legally owed severance.

    Workers across Amazon’s supply chain share the same struggle. Winning it requires them to come together in solidarity and leverage their collective power. In November, factory workers in Bangladesh joined protesting warehouse workers in many countries and supporters from the public during the planetary mobilization on Black Friday. On Wednesday, workers from the Hulu Garment factory in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Global Garments factory in Chittagong, Bangladesh, lead a global day of action to make Amazon pay all its workers.

    Amazon must pay all its workers – wherever they reside, whatever their occupation. And, ultimately, making Amazon pay is part of a much bigger fight to win another world. One in which global commercial circuits are geared not towards the wealth and power of billionaires and shareholders, but towards the health and happiness of the hard-working people who run it.

    For original article with links to references see:

    Dare we hope? Here’s my cautious case for climate optimism by Rebecca Solnit.

    That we are living in science fiction was brought home to me last week when I put down Kim Stanley Robinson’s superb climate-futures novel The Ministry for the Future and picked up Bill McKibben’s New Yorker letter on climate, warning of the melting of the Thwaites Glacier, “already known as the ‘doomsday glacier’ because its collapse could raise global sea levels by as much as three feet”. Where we are now would have seemed like science fiction itself 20 years ago, where we need to be will take us deeper into that territory.

    Three things matter for climate chaos and our response to it – the science reporting on current and potential conditions, the technology offering solutions, and the organizing which is shifting perspectives and policy. Each is advancing rapidly. The science mostly gives us terrifying news of more melting, more storms, more droughts, more fires, more famines. But the technological solutions and the success of the organizing to address this largest of all crises have likewise grown by leaps and bounds. For example, ideas put forth in the Green New Deal in 2019, seen as radical at the time, are now the kind of stuff President Biden routinely proposes in his infrastructure and jobs plans.

    It’s not easy to see all the changes – you have to be a wonk to follow the details on new battery storage solutions or the growth of solar power in cheapness, proliferation, efficiency, and possibility, or new understanding about agriculture and soil management to enhance carbon sequestration. You have to be a policy nerd to keep track of the countless new initiatives around the world. They include, recently, the UK committing to end overseas fossil fuel finance in December, the EU in January deciding to “discourage all further investments into fossil-fuel-based energy infrastructure projects in third countries”, and the US making a less comprehensive but meaningful effort this spring to curtail funding for overseas extraction. In April, oil-rich California made a commitment to end fossil fuel extraction altogether – if by a too-generous deadline. A lot of these policies have been deemed both good and not good enough. They do not get us to where we need to be, but they lay the foundation for further shifts, and like the Green New Deal many of them seemed unlikely a few years ago.

    The US itself has, of course, made a huge U-turn with a presidency that has begun by undoing much of what the previous administration did, reregulating what was deregulated, restarting support for research, and rejoining the Paris climate accords. The Biden administration is regularly doing things that would have been all but inconceivable in previous administrations, and while it deserves credit, more credit should go to the organizers who have redefined what is necessary, reasonable and possible. Both technologically and politically far more is possible. There are so many moving parts. The dire straits of the fossil fuel industry is one of them – as the climate journalist Antonia Juhasz put it recently: “The end of oil is near.”

    The organization Carbon Tracker, whose reports are usually somber reading, just put out a report so stunning the word encouraging is hardly adequate. In sum, current technology could produce a hundred times as much electricity from solar and wind than current global demand; prices on solar continue to drop rapidly and dramatically; and the land required to produce all this energy would take less than is currently given over to fossil fuels. It is a vision of a completely different planet, because if you change how we produce energy you change our geopolitics – for the better – and clean our air and renew our future. The report concludes: “The technical and economic barriers have been crossed and the only impediment to change is political.” Those barriers seemed insurmountable at the end of the last millennium.

    One of the things that’s long been curious about this crisis is that the amateurs and newcomers tend to be more alarmist and defeatist than the insiders and experts. What the climate journalist Emily Atkin calls “first-time climate dudes” put forth long, breathless magazine articles, bestselling books, and films announcing that it’s too late and we’re doomed, which is another way to say we don’t have to do a damned thing, which is a way to undermine the people who are doing those things and those who might be moved to do them.

    The climate scientist Michael Mann takes these people on – he calls them inactivists and doomists – in his recent book The New Climate Wars, which describes the defeatism that has succeeded outright climate denial as the great obstacle to addressing the crisis. He echoes what Carbon Tracker asserted, writing: “The solution is already here. We just need to deploy it rapidly and at a massive scale. It all comes down to political will and economic incentives.” The climate scientist Diana Liverman shares Mann’s frustration. She was part of the international team of scientists who authored the 2018 “hothouse Earth” study whose conclusions were boiled down, by the media, into “we have twelve years”.

    The report, she regularly points out, also described what we can and must do “to steer the Earth System away from a potential threshold and stabilize it in a habitable interglacial-like state. Such action entails stewardship of the entire Earth System – biosphere, climate, and societies – and could include decarbonization of the global economy, enhancement of biosphere carbon sinks, behavioral changes, technological innovations, new governance arrangements, and transformed social values.” It was a warning but also a promise that if we did what science tells us we must, we would not preserve the current order but form a better one.

    Another expert voice for hope is Christiana Figueres, who as executive secretary of the United Nations framework convention on climate change negotiated the Paris climate accords in 2015. As she recently declared: “This decade is a moment of choice unlike any we have ever lived. All of us alive right now share that responsibility and that opportunity. The optimism I’m speaking of is not the result of an achievement, it is the necessary input to meeting a challenge. Many now believe it is impossible to cut global emissions in half in this decade. I say, we don’t have the right to give up or let up.” She speaks of how impossible a treaty like the one she negotiated seemed after the shambles at the end of the 2009 Copenhagen meeting.

    The visionary organizer adrienne maree brown wrote not long ago: “I believe that all organizing is science fiction – that we are shaping the future we long for and have not yet experienced. I believe that we are in an imagination battle …” All these voices have taken the side of hope in the imagination battle, offering choices and possibilities and the responsibilities that come with those things, as does the actual science fiction in The Ministry for the Futurewhich takes a turn for the utopian by the end. When I began reading it, apocalyptic news seemed to chime in with the novel. But as I finished it I ran across stories about Scotland’s plans to rewild much of its land, which could have come from the book. And I saw the astonishing news that on the afternoon of Saturday 24 April, California got more than 90% of its energy from renewables.

    That we cannot see all the way to the transformed society we need does not mean it is impossible. We will reach it by not one great leap but a long journey, step by step. If we see how impossible our current reality might have seemed twenty years ago – that solar would be so cheap, that Scotland would get 97% of its electricity from renewables, that fossil fuel corporations would be in freefall – we can trust that we could be moving toward an even more transformed and transformative future, and that it is not a set destination but, for better or worse, what we are making up as we go. Each shift makes more shifts possible. But only if we go actively toward the possibilities rather than passively into the collapse.

    Rebecca Solnit is a Guardian US columnist. She is also the author of Men Explain Things to Me and The Mother of All Questions. Her most recent book is Recollections of My Nonexistence

    To read the original article with all its links, click here

    Why Trump Still Has Millions of Americans in His Grip(part)
    Thomas B. Edsall

    Beginning in the mid-1960s, the priorities of the Democratic Party began to shift away from white working- and middle-class voters — many of them socially conservative, Christian and religiously observant — to a set of emerging constituencies seeking rights and privileges previously reserved for white men: African-Americans; women’s rights activists; proponents of ethnic diversity, sexual freedom and self-expressive individualism.

    By the 1970s, many white Americans — who had taken their own centrality for granted — felt that they were being shouldered aside, left to face alone the brunt of the long process of deindustrialization: a cluster of adverse economic trends including the decline in manufacturing employment, the erosion of wages by foreign competition and the implosion of trade unionism.

    These voters became the shock troops of the Reagan Revolution; they now dominate Trump’s Republican Party.

    Liberal onlookers exploring the rise of right-wing populism accuse their adversaries of racism and sexism. There is plenty of truth to this view, but it’s not the whole story.

    In “The Bitter Heartland,” an essay in American PurposeWilliam Galston, a veteran of the Clinton White House and a senior fellow at Brookings, captures the forces at work in the lives of many of Trump’s most loyal backers:

    Resentment is one of the most powerful forces in human life. Unleashing it is like splitting the atom; it creates enormous energy, which can lead to more honest discussions and long-delayed redress of grievances. It can also undermine personal relationships — and political regimes. Because its destructive potential is so great, it must be faced.

    Recent decades, Galston continues, “have witnessed the growth of a potent new locus of right-wing resentment at the intersection of race, culture, class, and geography” — difficult for “those outside its orbit to understand.”

    They — “social conservatives and white Christians” — have what Galston calls a “bill of particulars” against political and cultural liberalism. I am going to quote from it at length because Galston’s rendering of this bill of particulars is on target.

    • “They have a sense of displacement in a country they once dominated. Immigrants, minorities, non-Christians, even atheists have taken center stage, forcing them to the margins of American life.”
    • “They believe we have a powerful desire for moral coercion. We tell them how to behave — and, worse, how to think. When they complain, we accuse them of racism and xenophobia. How, they ask, did standing up for the traditional family become racism? When did transgender bathrooms become a civil right?”
    • “They believe we hold them in contempt.”
    • “Finally, they think we are hypocrites. We claim to support free speech — until someone says something we don’t like. We claim to oppose violence — unless it serves a cause we approve of. We claim to defend the Constitution — except for the Second Amendment. We support tolerance, inclusion, and social justice — except for people like them.”

    Galston has grasped a genuine phenomenon. But white men are not the only victims of deindustrialization. We are now entering upon an era in which vast swaths of the population are potentially vulnerable to the threat — or promise — of a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

    To read the full article click here

    Democracy cannot survive an army of angry rural voters
    Robin V Sears

    The pandemic has left many wounds, and some will fester for years. But it may have also delivered hope in addressing another slowly rising crisis: the mounting anger of rural voters.

    In the United States, some rural voters are more than fifty per cent more powerful than city dwellers in choosing presidents and senators. In Canada, anyone who lives more than 200 km from our largest cities is also “worth” more to political parties than those who live in those same cities. These inequalities are the product of several policy legacies — some honourable, some decidedly not.

    Electoral boundary drafters recognize that rural voters will always be swamped by urbanites. Equal voting weight in northern Canada would produce impossibly vast ridings. So we put a thumb on the scales in their favour. But in the U.S. especially, as rural and small-town voters moved further right, they were given even more weight by Republican gerrymanders. Their latest census will push that to its greatest extreme next year.

    This historic favouritism to non-urban voters was designed to help them win government policy and corporate investment decisions. To the ballot imbalance were added hundreds of billions of dollars in economic development assistance, to attempt to lift those communities from population and economic decline.

    Neither policy worked.

    Southern Italy, France and Spain are still aging and depopulating, as is small-town and Northern Canada. Their young understandably flee the limited opportunities and stagnation they face. Those who stay behind become more isolated and angry at their fate.

    Conservative parties deliberately play to rural preference on guns, immigration, climate change and social values, ratcheting up the divide with urban voters and locking in small-town loyalties. Combine rural voting power imbalance with a Conservative near-monopoly and you have a democratic collapse down the road. Why?

    Because these voters alone can never elect Conservative parties to government; their champions lose over and over. Rural voters feel further portrayed as consistent losers when their issues and values are mocked.

    The pandemic may have offered a better path forward. A rising number of young families struggling in overpriced housing have begun to move to small-town and rural Canada. Some small businesses, moving fast into the online world, now see the lower overhead in small towns can improve margins. One piece of the puzzle was missing — less than an hour from most cities, internet access was expensive and unreliable.

    Just as the pandemic was peaking late last year, that puzzle piece quietly slid into place — satellite-delivered high-speed broadband. Elon Musk — soon to be followed by Jeff Bezos and Telesat — began to roll out previously unseen speeds to even the most isolated communities. This will transform life for an enormous number of Canadians, whose previous access options consisted of ridiculous cellular data charges or no digital connection at all.

    It will reverse the population drain, and should speed investment and job creation in these communities. With proper nurturing by governments it should also begin to improve health, housing and schooling options. Already in one rural community near Ottawa, one can see the signs of change. Property prices are rising quickly, shining pizza-sized satellite dishes are appearing, and “help wanted” signs are in more shop windows. When the pandemic finally lifts, these small shoots of economic revival will sprout everywhere.

    There are perhaps two lessons here, one in policy-making and the other in politics. Repeating the same failed projects over and over really is a sign of insanity. A plant whose only reason for existence is massive tax credits will always close when the credits end. Successful economic development projects are always based on ensuring that the community has the technological and human capabilities that make it a desirable location.

    The second lesson is that if you allow the dispossession of non-city voters to deepen, it will tear the bonds of democracy. They will support harder-edged means of protest, and the demagogues who promote them. Progressives need to stop sneering at gun owners and climate skeptics in rural Canada, and address their real economic and social inequities. Conservatives need to stop feeding their anger in a doomed effort to win power. That way lies only unending defeat.

    Biden clearing rubble left by Trump
    Jaime Watt

    For those on Twitter or otherwise tuned into the political world’s 24~hour spin cycle, the past 100 days have been marked by an unusual phenomenon; the casual hum of political discourse in the absence of Donald J.Trump.

    On the streets and in the news, Trump’s legacy marches on through COVID -19 denial, hysteria about the “BIG LIE” of election fraud and the steady purging from the Republican Party of common sense and dissenting opinions. But the troller-in-chief himself has been notably absent from the airwaves, providing a peep on social media. He’s barely engaging in interviews, or even appearing in public for that matter.

    Of course, Trump’s quiet is due in part to his exile from the platforms he once held dear, but it is also a sign that his grip on American life is fading -- that most Americans have turned out his vision of the world.

    Astonishingly, it may turn out that after all the insanity of the last four years, the damage and the impact of Trump may prove to have been all sound and fury. That the impact may be as ephemeral as the man is bellicose. With a legacy as enduring as a Popsicle in the summer sun, save for the wretched cultural division it has created.

    For the past four years, many people --myself among them -- have despaired at the damage Trump inflicted on the stature and legacy of the American presidency. He eschewed norm, abandoned allies and at times transformed the pageantry of the office into a pantomime or worse, an infomercial.

    “How,” I wondered “will successor ever achieve any measure of greatness with an office so diminished in stature, both in the nation and the world?”

    For that reason, many expected that any president who followed one as disruptive as president Trump would need to be a transitional president. One who would give the country time to catch its breath and to throw off the chaos of the previous four years.

    After the Watergate scandal, for example, left the presidency in tatters, it took the presidencies of both Ford and Carter before Americans were ready for another transformative president —Ronald Reagan.

    Now, just over 100 days since Trump left office President Biden has been determined to avoid the same fate. Far from proving Trump’s erosion of the office irreparable, Biden has shown himself capable of being so much more than simply an interim president.

    In fact, he has chosen the opposite playbook. Biden has surprised many by enthusiastically and unapologetically taking up the mantle of his party. He has paid homage to its history by expanding the American social safety net in ways unpresented since the mid- 20th century. With a sure-footedness that belies his status as a rookie president, Biden is moving, leaps and bounds, to transform the role of the state in American life. If he succeeds, his legacy will be paralleled only by Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon B.Johnson.

    What’s more, Biden’s undertaking is about much more than an injection of spending or increased supports for the middle and working classes. It is a move to reshape the social contract Americans have with one another and their government. And in doing so restore the stature — and power —— of the presidency itself.

    In his speech to both houses of Congress last month, Biden spoke of his plans as a “once in a generation investment in our families and our children,” acknowledging the position of his undertaking alongside FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. Whatever moniker is bestowed on his own administration’s legacy — even if there is none at all —— no one can call it an interim presidency.

    If he fails to pass the legislation foundational to his vision, Biden will nonetheless have proven that the president can attempt truly transformational change. That the office he holds can still live up to the challenge of its history. In doing so, Biden will help to clear the rubble of his predecessor, further drowning out the sound and fury of a past presidency which stood for little
    beyond its own grim world view.

    Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.
    He is a freelance contributing columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt

    Ode to Joy Hymn

    1 Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
    God of glory, Lord of love;
    Hearts unfold like flow'rs before You,
    Op'ning to the sun above.
    Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
    Drive the dark of doubt away;
    Giver of immortal gladness,
    Fill us with the light of day!

    2 All Your works with joy surround You,
    Earth and heav'n reflect Your rays,
    Stars and angels sing around You,
    Center of unbroken praise;
    Field and forest, vale and mountain,
    Flow'ry meadow, flashing sea,
    Chanting bird and flowing fountain
    Praising You eternally!

    3 Always giving and forgiving,
    Ever blessing, ever blest,
    Well-spring of the joy of living,
    Ocean-depth of happy rest!
    Loving Father, Christ our Brother,
    Let Your light upon us shine;
    Teach us how to love each other,
    Lift us to the joy divine.

    4 Mortals, join the mighty chorus,
    Which the morning stars began;
    God's own love is reigning o’er us,
    Joining people hand in hand.
    Ever singing, march we onward,
    Victors in the midst of strife;
    Joyful music leads us sunward
    In the triumph song of life.

    Henry Van Dyke 1907

    Ode to Joy, Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805)
    English translation by Michael Kay

    Joy! A spark of fire from heaven,
    Daughter from Elysium,
    Drunk with fire we dare to enter,
    Holy One, inside your shrine.
    Your magic power binds together,
    What we by custom wrench apart,
    All men will emerge as brothers,
    Where you rest your gentle wings.

    If you've mastered that great challenge:
    Giving friendship to a friend,
    If you've earned a steadfast woman,
    Celebrate your joy with us!
    Join if in the whole wide world there's
    Just one soul to call your own!
    He who's failed must steal away,
    shedding tears as he departs.

    All creation drinks with pleasure,
    Drinks at Mother Nature's breast.
    All the just, and all the evil,
    Follow down her rosy path.
    Kisses she bestowed, and grape wine,
    Friendship true, proved e'en in death.
    Every worm knows nature's pleasure,
    Every cherub meets his God.

    Gladly, like the planets flying
    True to heaven's mighty plan,
    Brothers, run your course now,
    Happy as a knight in victory.

    Be embracéd, all you millions,
    Share this kiss with all the world!
    Way above the stars, brothers,
    There must live a loving father.
    Do you kneel down low, you millions?
    Do you see your maker, world?
    Search for Him above the stars,
    Above the stars he must be living.

    Copyright © 2001-2013 Michael Kay

    When I first looked at this graph I was amazed at the number of lawyers in Australia and the few in Canada. This made me question the whole thing, so I made my own which is shown here.
    The bars are plotted by dividing the population by the number of lawyers for 2010.

    Once again it shows that one cannot be too careful.
    Trust no one. (Except maybe your wife)

    CBC News analyzed the financial statements of 53 public companies that disclosed receiving more than $10 million under the program. The analysis found nearly 30 of them issued quarterly payments to shareholders while collecting CEWS. Collectively these companies dished out nearly $2 billion to shareholders between April and September. At least seven companies also bought back shares during the summer while receiving the wage subsidy. The analysis also identified 13 companies whose year-to-date net income increased when compared to 2019, including Leon's (which got $32 million in CEWS) and Extendicare ($82.2 million). 

    Canada’s big three telecoms – Bell, Rogers, and Telus — have handed out at least $5.5 billion in dividends while scooping up more than $240 million in federal pandemic support. In fact, dozens of publicly traded Canadian companies, from auto-parts maker Linamar to furniture retailer Leon’s, have seemingly had the government help to sponsor dividend payments to shareholders in the midst of a health and economic crisis.

    Employee discontent is growing at Destination Toronto — formerly Tourism Toronto — following reports that the agency temporarily laid off more than half of its local Toronto workers at the beginning of the pandemic, then hired three new American contract workers using Canadian federal funding.

    As the global economy crumbled, and automotive sales around the world plunged during the COVID-19 pandemic, Guelph-based auto parts maker Linamar was feeling flush with cash. So much so that at the end the third quarter, it announced it was doubling its dividend, from six cents per share, to 12 cents. That move meant Linamar would now be paying its shareholders almost $8 million every three months. “It feels great to be profitable again, with earnings actually up from last year, and to see such an outstanding quarter for free cash flow despite the challenges we are facing,” Linamar CEO Linda Hasenfratz wrote in a company press release announcing third-quarter earnings of $125.5 million, a jump from $98.2 million a year earlier. Revenue, meanwhile, had fallen, to $1.64 billion from $1.74 billion a year earlier. Boosting the dividend after seeing earnings rise at the same time sales fell would ordinarily seem like a reasonable manoeuvre. But the increased dividend comes at a time when Linamar has also been collecting a federal wage subsidy. Through the first three quarters of the year, Linamar has collected $108.1 million in the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), while paying out a total of $15.7 million in dividends.

    In the first nine months of 2020, as the COVID-19 catastrophe unfolded across Ontario, the three largest publicly traded long-term-care operators in the province made huge payouts to investors while taking millions in government funds, data shows.
    A Star analysis of the financial statements of Extendicare, Sienna Senior Living and Chartwell Retirement Residences shows that in the first three quarters of 2020 (ending Sept. 30), these for-profit companies collectively paid out nearly $171 million to shareholders at the same time they received $138.5 million through provincial pandemic pay for front-line workers, the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program or other pandemic funding.

    While most Canadian companies have been hurt by the pandemic, Leon’s, Canada’s largest furniture and mattresses retailer, reported stellar results in the midst of an unprecedented lockdown. Despite seeing its revenue decline by a whopping 38 per cent in April and then by 46 per cent in May, mainly due to the temporary closure of more than half of its stores, the company’s net income suddenly shot up by 88.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2020 (which ended on June 30), to $47.2 million, compared to $25 million the year before. In fact, the furniture retailer’s income for the second quarter was the second largest quarterly profit it has reported in 101 years of operation. To be clear, Leon’s participation in the CEWS program is completely legitimate. The company met the eligibility requirements set by the government (initially a revenue drop of 30 per cent or more). One could even argue that it had a fiduciary responsibility to its stakeholders to accept the subsidy that the government offered.

    In reply to the Leon's article, Natasha Cassinath of Toronto writes, "How Leon’s profited off government handouts meant to keep them afloat is outrageous. This Canadian company profited from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) program to the tune of $29.8 million, culminating in a $24-million special dividend to shareholders. While the entirety of Leon’s actions may be legal, they are morally reprehensible and financially irresponsible."

    Who Was Prince Philip?

    Prince Philip was born on the island of Corfu in Greece, on June 10, 1921. As members of Greek and Danish royalty, Philip and his family were banished from his native country when he was young, with the boy subsequently living in France, Germany, and Britain. Philip married Queen Elizabeth II before her ascension to the British throne in 1952. Their children include Prince Charles, heir apparent to the throne, Anne, Andrew, and Edward. Philip served as the British royal consort for more than six decades.

    Early Life

    On September 22, 1922, Philip's uncle, King Constantine I of Greece, was forced to abdicate the throne. The military government arrested Prince Andrew, and in December, a revolutionary court banished him from Greece for life. Philip's family went to France, where they settled in the Paris suburb of Saint-Cloud. Philip's mother was eventually committed to a psychiatric institution while his father relocated to the south of France, maintaining limited contact with the rest of the family.

    Philip attended the MacJannet American School before he was sent to the United Kingdom to study at the Cheam School. During the 1930s, he relocated to a school in Germany and then moved again to Scotland's Gordonstoun School, founded by Jewish headmaster Kurt Hahn following the rise of the Nazi party. Many of Philip's family members remained in Germany, including his sisters, who married into German aristocratic circles.

    After graduating in 1939, Philip attended the Royal Naval College, where he excelled. During World War II, he served in the British Navy while in-law family members were on the opposing Axis side of the conflict.

    While not British, Philip had family ties to England. Shortly after his birth, his maternal grandfather, Prince Louis of Battenberg, died in London. Louis was a naturalized British citizen who had renounced his German titles and adopted the surname Mountbatten during the First World War. Philip was also related to the British royal family as a descendant of Queen Victoria. 

    In 1939, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother Elizabeth) toured the Royal Naval College. Philip escorted their two young daughters, Elizabeth, and Margaret, who were distant cousins of Philip’s through Queen Victoria. The 13-year-old Elizabeth developed a crush on Philip during the trip. Elizabeth and Philip began to exchange letters, which would continue for the next several years.

    In the summer of 1946, Philip asked King George for his daughter's hand in marriage after allegedly proposing to Elizabeth first. The king agreed, provided that any formal engagement was delayed until Elizabeth's 21st birthday. To prepare for the announcement, Philip abandoned his Greek and Danish royal titles, took on the surname Mountbatten from his mother's family, adopted Anglicanism as a religion and became a British subject.

    The engagement of Philip and Elizabeth was announced to the public on July 10, 1947. They were married on November 20, 1947, at Westminster Abbey, in a ceremony broadcast throughout the world by radio. On the morning of the wedding, Philip became the Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Marionet and Baron Greenwich. 

    He and Elizabeth eventually had four children: Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward. Prince Charles, their oldest child, is the heir apparent to the throne.

    King George died on February 6, 1952, leaving Elizabeth as his heir. Philip and Elizabeth heard the news of his death while traveling in Kenya. The accession of Elizabeth to the throne raised the question of the name of the royal house. On the advice of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Elizabeth proclaimed that the monarchy would continue to be known as the House of Windsor, a moniker first adopted by her grandfather George V.

    Official Activities and Family Affairs

    Philip remained the queen's consort for more than six decades, having accompanied her in her official duties and appearances throughout the world. Additionally, he participated in the work of many organizations, particularly favoring those focused on the environment, athletics, and education. Philip launched the Duke of Edinburgh's Award in the mid-1950s, with a focus on youth achievement. He played polo until 1971 and competed in carriage and boat racing, with piloting airplanes, oil painting and art collecting also among his hobbies.

    While largely avoiding personal scandals, Philip was known for his outspoken nature and controversial remarks. In honor of his 90th birthday, in 2011, the Daily Mirror published a list of "90 classic gaffes" that were attributed to Philip over the years. 

    Within his family, Philip intervened in personal relationships, at times leading to conflict. In 1981, he pressured his son Charles to either wed or leave Lady Diana Spencer. When their subsequent marriage proved difficult, Philip and the queen reportedly pushed for reconciliation.

    After Princess Diana died in a car crash in 1997, Philip participated in her funeral, walking with grandsons William and Harry in the procession. Months later, Mohamed Al-Fayed publicly accused Philip of being a racist who orchestrated the car crash that killed Mohamed's son, Dodi Fayed, and Diana. An official inquest found no evidence of conspiracy, however, and the crash was ruled accidental.

    Grandchildren and Great-Grandchildren

    Prince Philip has eight grandchildren: Prince William, Prince Harry, Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall, Princess Beatrice, Princess Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and James, Viscount Severn. He also had ten great-grandchildren including Prince George, Princess Charlotte, Prince Louis, and Archie.

    Health Issues

    Having previously dealt with such ailments as a blocked coronary artery and a bladder infection, in early June 2013, days before his 92nd birthday, Philip underwent exploratory abdominal surgery. He was released from the London Clinic on June 17, following more than a week in the hospital.

    In early 2015, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made Philip a knight affiliated with the Order of Australia for his decades of royal service. In May 2017, it was announced that 95-year-old Philip, the longest-serving royal consort in British history, would retire from public engagements in the summer. One month later, he was hospitalized again with an infection, but was said to be in "good spirits."

    In April 2018, after he missed the traditional Maundy and Easter services, Philip was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London for hip replacement surgery. The operation was successful, and the prince was discharged from the hospital eight days later.

    In February 2021, Philip was admitted to a London hospital as "a precautionary measure" after he felt unwell. Two weeks later he was transferred to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, also in London, "where doctors will continue to treat him for an infection, as well as undertake testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition." He underwent successful surgery for his heart condition on March 3.


    Philip passed away the morning of April 9, 2021, at Windsor Castle. He was ninety-nine years old.

    abstracted from

    Psalm 104 

    Let all that I am praise the Lord.

    O Lord my God, how great you are!
        You are robed with honor and majesty.
        You are dressed in a robe of light.
    You stretch out the starry curtain of the heavens.
        you lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
    You make the clouds your chariot.
        you ride upon the wings of the wind.
    The winds are your messengers.
        flames of fire are your servants. 

    You placed the world on its foundation
        so, it would never be moved.
    You clothed the earth with floods of water,
        water that covered even the mountains.
    At your command, the water fled.
        at the sound of your thunder, it hurried away.
    Mountains rose and valleys sank
        to the levels you decreed.
    Then you set a firm boundary for the seas,
        so they would never again cover the earth.

    10 You make springs pour water into the ravines,
        so streams gush down from the mountains.
    11 They provide water for all the animals,
        and the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
    12 The birds nest beside the streams
        and sing among the branches of the trees.
    13 You send rain on the mountains from your heavenly home,
        and you fill the earth with the fruit of your labor.
    14 You cause grass to grow for the livestock
        and plants for people to use.
    You allow them to produce food from the earth—
    15     wine to make them glad,
    olive oil to soothe their skin,
        and bread to give them strength.
    16 The trees of the Lord are well cared for—
        the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
    17 There the birds make their nests,
        and the storks make their homes in the cypresses.
    18 High in the mountains live the wild goats,
        and the rocks form a refuge for the hyraxes. 

    19 You made the moon to mark the seasons,
        and the sun knows when to set.
    20 You send the darkness, and it becomes night,
        when all the forest animals prowl about.
    21 Then the young lions roar for their prey,
        stalking the food provided by God.
    22 At dawn they slink back
        into their dens to rest.
    23 Then people go off to their work,
        where they labor until evening.

    24 O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
        In wisdom you have made them all.
        The earth is full of your creatures.
    25 Here is the ocean, vast and wide,
        teeming with life of every kind,
        both large and small.
    26 See the ships sailing along,
        and Leviathan, which you made to play in the sea.

    27 They all depend on you
        to give them food as they need it.
    28 When you supply it, they gather it.
        You open your hand to feed them, and they are richly satisfied.
    29 But if you turn away from them, they panic.
        When you take away their breath,
     die and turn again to dust.
    30 When you give them your breath, life is created,
        and you renew the face of the earth.

    31 May the glory of the Lord continue forever!
        The Lord takes pleasure in all he has made!
    32 The earth trembles at his glance.
        the mountains smoke at his touch.

    33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live.
        I will praise my God to my last breath!
    34 May all my thoughts be pleasing to him,
        for I rejoice in the Lord.
    35 Let all sinners vanish from the face of the earth.
        let the wicked disappear forever.

    Let all that I am praise the Lord.

    Praise the Lord!

    (As I read this I think of the power of nature. You may call her God.)

    1 How beautiful is the bright, clear sky above us! What a glorious sight it is!

    2-5 The sun, when it appears, proclaims as it rises how marvellous a thing it is, made by the Most High. At noon it dries up the land; no one can stand its blazing heat. The setting sun sets fire to the hilltops, like a metal furnace glowing from the heat. It sends out fiery rays, blinding the eyes with its brightness. The Lord, who made it, is great; it speeds on its way at his command.

    6-8 There is also the moon, marking the passage of time, an eternal sign of the changing seasons. The moon determines the holy days. Its light grows full and then grows dim. The “month” is named after the moon, marvellous to watch as it grows fuller each night, a signal light for the heavenly armies, shining out in the dome of the sky.

    9-10 The shining stars make the night sky lovely, brilliant ornaments in the Lord's high heavens. They stay in the places assigned to them by the Holy One and never relax their dutiful watch.

    11-12 Look at the rainbow and praise its Creator! How magnificent, how radiant, its beauty! Like a bow bent by the hands of the Most High, it spans the horizon in a circle of glory.

    13 He commands, and snow begins to fall; lightning strikes to carry out his judgements.

    14-20 The storerooms of the sky are thrown open, and the clouds roll out like flying birds. With his power he forms great masses of clouds and shatters the ice into hailstones. He speaks, and thunder twists the earth in pain; the mountains are shaken by his strength. Whenever he wishes, the south wind blows, whirlwinds come, and windstorms from the north. He sends the snow fluttering down like birds, like locusts alighting on the ground. We marvel at its beautiful whiteness, and in fascination we watch it fall. He sprinkles frost over the ground like salt, and it freezes into thorny flowers of ice. He sends the cold north wind blowing and the water hardens into ice; every lake and pond freezes over, putting on a coat of icy armour.

    21-22 He scorches the hills of the wilderness with drought, and the grass turns brown from its heat; but a cloudy mist restores it all to life as the weather cools and dew appears.

    23-25 By his wisdom he calmed the great oceans and placed the islands there. Sailors tell about the dangers of the sea, and we listen to their tales in amazement. In the sea are strange and marvellous creatures: huge monsters and all kinds of living things.

    26-27 Each of the Lord's messengers succeeds at its task. Everything is held together by his word. We could say much more and never finish, but it all means this: the Lord is everything.

    28 How can we find the power to praise him? He is greater than all his creation. The Lord is awesome in his greatness; his power is overwhelming. Though you do your best to praise him, he is greater than you can ever express. Though you honour him tirelessly and with all your strength, you still cannot praise him enough. No one has seen him, no one can describe him; no one can praise him as he deserves.

    32 Mysteries greater than these are still unknown; we know only a fraction of his works. The Lord made the universe and then gave wisdom to devout people.

    Good News Bible. Scripture taken from the Good News Bible (r) (Today's English Version Second Edition, UK/British Edition). Copyright © 1992 British & Foreign Bible Society. Used by permission. Paragraphing by Harry Coupland

    This dramatic view brings together two Welsh symbols. In the distance sits the country’s highest mountain, Snowdon, while the huge walls of slate in the foreground signifies an industry which has reshaped the landscape here over the centuries. This is the former Dinorwic quarry in the county of Gwynedd, once the second-largest slate quarry in the world. It was the Romans who first took slate from the area, but the process really gathered pace during the industrial revolution, when it became known as the industry that ‘roofed the world’. At its peak in the late 19th century, thousands of men were employed at Dinorwic, and the Welsh slate industry produced almost 500,000 tonnes a year. But in 1969, Dinorwic closed, a victim of falling demand and cheaper imports. Welsh slate has a worldwide reputation for quality and was used in the construction of Westminster Hall in London, Copenhagen City Hall and the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, Australia.

    By Selam Gebrekidan and Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, March 21, 2021

    In the coming days, a patent will finally be issued on a five-year-old invention, a feat of molecular engineering that is at the heart of at least five major Covid-19 vaccines. And the United States government will control that patent.

    The new patent presents an opportunity — and some argue the last best chance — to exact leverage over the drug companies producing the vaccines and pressure them to expand access to less affluent countries.

    The question is whether the government will do anything at all.

    The rapid development of Covid-19 vaccines, achieved at record speed and financed by massive public funding in the United States, the European Union and Britain, represents a great triumph of the pandemic. Governments partnered with drug makers, pouring in billions of dollars to procure raw materials, finance clinical trials and retrofit factories. Billions more were committed to buy the finished product.

    But this Western success has created stark inequity. Residents of wealthy and middle-income countries have received about 90 percent of the vaccines delivered so far. Under current projections, many of the rest will have to wait years.

    Growing numbers of health officials and advocacy groups worldwide are calling for Western governments to use aggressive powers — most of them rarely or never used before — to force companies to publish vaccine recipes, share their know-how and ramp up manufacturing. Public health advocates have pleaded for help, including asking the Biden administration to use its patent to push for broader vaccine access.

    Full article

    It was a dress that triggered a flood of headlines. Standing in front of Vice-President Kamala Harris with her right hand raised, Deb Haaland was sworn in last week as the secretary of the interior dressed in a long rainbow ribbon skirt adorned with a corn stalk, butterflies and stars.

    The skirt, a traditional Native garment with a variety of meanings often rooted in honoring the community’s heritage and symbolizing empowerment, outshone everything around her in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building during her swearing-in as the first Indigenous cabinet secretary in US history.

    But there is also a story behind the dress: one of empowerment and survival of a community and its designer.

    The shimmering four-pointed stars, however, were Woodward’s own distinct addition. She said she likes to feature them in all her ribbon skirts as a homage to both the stories she grew up with about stars being relatives looking down on them and to signify the connection Native people feel “to everything around us; that everything has a purpose; that everything that was created by creator has a purpose”.

    Woodward, who also works as an advocate for victims of violence for the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, started making ribbon skirts around 2010, when she was attending Native ceremonies with her husband, and she and her daughters, now ages thirteen and nine, needed to wear them.

    But she learned quickly that the act of creating such an important symbol of matriarchal empowerment that tells stories of survival, resilience, and sacredness, also helped with her own healing and to restore her pride as a Native woman.

    “So many women would inbox me and say, ‘This is my life story, can you put that on a skirt?’ or ‘This is my given Native name, can you put that on a skirt?’ Or ‘I’m a survivor of all this stuff and I need to heal, I’ve never owned a ribbon skirt,’” she told the Guardian. “And so, as I’ve had those conversations, it’s given me so much empowerment for myself, but also for all the women that I’ve connected with.”

    Woodward explained that her father survived residential school and her mother the “60s scoop” – which involved thousands of Indigenous children being removed from their families in Canada and placed into foster care – and the year she was born her aunt was murdered. And then as a child growing up in Saskatchewan, Canada, she also experienced a wide array of racism, including being called a “dirty Indian”.

    One instance when she was about eight years old and had to escape a domestic violence situation with her mother in the middle of the night is especially haunting. She said she remembers both being barefoot, dressed only in nightgowns, and running down a dark alley to get to a gas station to call for help. But instead of being greeted by concern, she remembers the clerk looking at them in disgust, before begrudgingly calling the police for them.

    “I can’t explain how as a little kid you know that they’re looking at you in disgust because you’re Native, not for any other reason other than because you’re Native and this person doesn’t like Natives,” she said.

    Woodward said the shame she felt about being Native meant her parents had to force her to wear ribbon skirts as a child. So, when she became an adult and made the active decision to start not only wearing the skirts again, but sewing them, she said it helped her heal and reclaim who she is as an Indigenous woman.

    nce she started posting images of her creations on Snapchat, community members began reaching out to her requesting custom orders, and things just grew from there. Today, she has made hundreds of skirts, including ones helping to bring attention to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit (MMIWG2) movement, and sells them through her organization, ReeCreeations.

    Two of her MMIWG2 skirts had already made it on to the floor of the US Congress as part of discussions surrounding Savanna’s Act, a bill dedicated to Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind, a Native American woman who was killed in 2017 in North Dakota. So, when she related to Haaland and sent her a draft of her design, it seemed only natural that her skirt would be exactly right for this occasion.

    Woodward said Haaland wearing the skirt designed by someone from all the way up north in Saskatchewan while being sworn in, makes it clear to her that “she’s still representing all of us as a people”.

    modified from today's Guardian, HGC, with permission

    Welcome to Harry's blog

    Something occurs every day that gives me cause for reflection. If we were visiting face-to-face I am sure we would discuss it. If you feel inclined to participate in the discussion, please enter a comment at the end of the blog. And don't forget to come back to see what others have said.

    Lost in Translation,
    Hey Siri, why don’t digital assistants understand people who don’t sound like white Americans
    EVERY evening last summer, after I’d shut down my work laptop, my 3-year-old daughter and l would approach our Google Home smart speaker and yell, “Hey Google, can you play ‘Aankh Marey’ from the movie Simmba?” We’d hold our breaths and wait for a response. The digital assistant would then repeat the name of the Bollywood song we’d requested in its default standard American accent.
       We’d rejoice and dance when the assistant played the right number, which happened about half the time. My daughter was going to a Bollywood dance class and we’d finally found a use for the device that my husband had won at a tech conference.
       Often, however, it would mishear our requests and play something else. My daughter and l would look at each other and chuckle, like the only people in the room who got a joke. We’d roll our eyes and bond over our assistant’s incompetence. These moments turned out to be funny and special, and secretly, l enjoyed the role reversal of having an assistant who sounded like a stereotypical American. When would that happen in real life?   Yet several days into our routine, l noticed something strange. My daughter and I were contorting our mouths to pronounce the names of Bollywood songs with an American accent. I don't know if our exaggerated Midwestern accents improved Google Home’s hit rate or if we were doing it unconsciously, so we felt like we were being understood. Either way, the gadget that had entered our house as a helper had turned into an intruder. Not just an intruder that could listen to our private conversations, but an intruder that was telling us how we should speak our own language in our own home. l’d been wrong about our reversed power dynamic.
       My hunch was confirmed when I spoke with Halcyon Lawrence, an assistant professor of technical communication and information design at Towson University who studies user accessibility and design for voice recognition systems such as Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri. “Your daughter is being disciplined by Google Home. You are being disciplined,” she told me. This artificial intelligence—powered machine, she explained, either understands users‘ accents based on its programming or it doesn't. lf it misunderstands something, it just assumes it knows what it's hearing and powers through its mistake. it’s essentially a one-way feedback loop where humans must change their behavior to make the machine run more smoothly. If l am going to use this technology, then I must assimilate. I must codeswitch,” Lawrence said. “l find there is something inherently violent about that, because it is no different than the kind of language discipline that we faced when we were colonized.” Like most postcolonial English speakers, I float in an in-between land of languages. l speak four Indian languages and I speak English fluently. Yet my accent and dialect are seen not as marks of erudition or class like British accents, but as punchlines that reinforce stereotypes. (Think Apu from The Simpsons).
       Lawrence’s own experiences being misinterpreted because of her Trinidadian accent inspired her to study how voice recognition systems embed “accent bias.” Linguistic studies have found that nonnative English speakers and people who don’t have standard American accents, particularly immigrants from non-European countries, are penalized in the job and housing markets because they are perceived to be less intelligent and less competent. Vice President Kamala Harris has described how people would assume that her mom, who had a PhD in nutrition and endocrinology, was unintelligent because of her Indian accent.
       Switching your personal digital assistant’s accent won't affect its ability to understand yours. But it will tell you more about who it thinks it’s talking to. The most popular services—Google Assistant, Alexa, Siri, and Microsoft’s Cortana——can speak in a range of languages, dialects, and accents, with notable exceptions. Alexa has only one version of a standard American accent. Siri has American, British, Irish, Indian, Australian, and South African accents. Google Assistant speaks with one of eight color-coded American-accented presets as well as “British Racing Green” and “Sydney Harbour Blue.” None of the assistants, however, offer any regional or ethnic American accents or African American Vernacular English, a dialect with its own accent and unique grammatical features. Google Home, however, does have a limited time “cameo” voice appearance by comedian lssa Rae (who was preceded by John Legend). Alexa features Samuel L. Jackson.
       But these celebrity voices aren’t really about functionality—Jackson can offer his opinion on snakes but isn't programmed to help you with your shopping. Miriam Sweeney, an associate professor at the University of Alabama’s school of communication who studies voice assistants, told me that the virtual Jackson and Rae are further examples of technology companies using Black voices to entertain white consumers while ignoring Black consumers. A recent study by computer scientists and linguists at Stanford University found that all the major speech recognition systems routinely misunderstood users who speak African American Vernacular English at almost twice the rate of their white counterparts.
       Google told me that fairness is one of its “core Al principles” and that the company seeks to make its digital assistants accessible to as many people as possible. “From day one, we've strived to build an inclusive product that can be helpful for all users and equally serve them," Beth Tsai, the director of Google Assistant policy, told me. Much as it doesn't specify the gender of its assistants’ voices, Google seeks to make its default American voice raceless. “Labeling a voice—even if it’s recorded by a Black actor—as a ‘Black voice’ defines what a Black voice sounds like...Similar to gender, voices for people of different races are really diverse. We’d be doing a disservice and be leaning into stereotypes if we applied those labels,” Tsai said.
       Amazon told me something similar. “Alexa’s understanding of different languages, dialects, and accents is of the utmost importance to Amazon and our customers,” said a pokes-person for Amazon. “Alexa has been designed to work well for everyone, and our speech recognition models work with many different dialects and variations in speech.  We continuously improve our models in order to accurately recognize variations in speech.
       Even as the tech companies boast that their voice recognition products are accessible to a wide range of users, they add that the technology is still difficult to develop, which partly explains why they haven’t introduced more accent options. Even as they say African Americans are an important consumer market, some in Silicon Valley argue that market dynamics dictate which accent and language options are available. These arguments aren’t entirely convincing.   All four digital assistants offer Italian, which is spoken as ‘a first language by 63 million people. (Siri even comes in Finnish, which has about 5 million native speakers.) Yet only a couple assistants offer Swahili, Telugu, and Marathi—languages with nearly I00 million speakers each. lt’s nothing new for companies to exclude consumers of color, says Safiya Umoja Noble, an associate professor of information studies at UCLA and the author of Algorithms of Oppression, an investigation into how search engines reinforce racial biases. For years, consumers of color have heard that “they are not a market that matters the way high-end luxury, middle-class, and affluent consumers matter,” she says. “The whole history of advertising in the United States has been about prioritizing people who don’t have accents, as if there is some type of neutral space of language, which of course we know is absurd”.
       Another likely explanation for the digital assistants’ limitations is that they reflect their creators’ blind spots. An analysis that I did for Reveal of I77 large US technology companies found that in 20I6, 73 percent of their executives and senior managers were white, 2I percent were Asian (including South Asian), 3 percent were Latino, and I.4 percent were Black. (ln December, a prominent Black Al ethics researcher claimed Google fired her after she co-wrote a draft paper about the risks of text recognition systems reinforcing racial and gender biases.)
      However, both Noble and Sweeney think it may be a good thing that voice recognition devices aren’t trained to recognize many accents of marginalized groups, effectively stymieing the devices’ primary function, which is collecting users’ personal data. Sweeney tells her students to throw away their smart speakers, and Noble refuses to buckle under pressure from her 9-year-old to buy one. When we use these technologies, she said, “we teach our kids that our voice isn’t the normative voice, that they have to be something else in order to engage, in order to participate, in order to find themselves.”
       Lawrence notes that when voice recognition technology misinterprets people of color, it’s not simply inconvenient but sometimes harmful. A Pr0Publica investigation into “aggression detectors” that are being installed in schools found that they incorrectly identified kids’ voices as aggressive even when they were saying completely innocuous things. 0n the other hand, she noted, if Black people don’t use digital assistants, they will continue to be overlooked and misunderstood by tech companies, which will keep baking biases into their algorithms. “For how long will we be spared not being recognized? In my mind, it’s a no-win situation,” Lawrence said.
       Within my home, l found a small, twisted way to win. I was excited to learn that Google Home has a setting called English (Indian), which speaks Indian-accented English. I also selected the Hindi language option, though I quickly became frustrated because it only understood a formal Hindi that is totally unlike the version we speak at home. For the first time in my life, I had to look up the Hindi word for “movie.” The English Indian assistant didn't understand me any better than the default setting, but at least it didn't make me feel like l had to imitate an American accent.
    Talking to someone—or something—-that sounded like us did improve our experience, even if it didn’t completely reflect our multilingual reality. l noticed that my daughter wasn't code-switching her English anymore. And every so often, we’d google phrases to speak in pure Hindi with our assistant. And we’d look at each other and laugh at how abnormal our non-conversational Hindi sounded.
     lt was clear that we didn't have a perfect substitute for the polished product aimed at “American” speakers. When my daughter would ask the American-accented assistant to tell her a story, it would regale her with fairy tales like “Cinderella” or “Hansel and Gretel.” Yet when she asked the Hindi assistant for a story, it revealed a hole in its programming—-not a serious functional issue, but a revealing sign of the lack of imagination that had gone into it. lt replied, “Once upon a time there was a king and once upon a time there was a queen. They both slept and that’s the end of the story.”
    Sinduja Rangarajan

    Are we losing the rat race?

    By Richard Godwin, The Guardian, 10-minute read

    An empty office building is a good place to shelter if you’re a rat in a crisis. It will be warm and dry and, if you’re lucky, one of the humans who hastily vacated before the last coronavirus lockdown will have left a half-eaten Pret flapjack in a drawer for you. Not that you’re fussy. The loss of your usual diet of commuter leftovers is a blow, but it’s not insurmountable. “Rats will always find something to eat,” says Richard Ashley, emeritus professor of urban water at the University of Sheffield. “Human waste is ideal, but any natural organic material will do. Houseplants are fine. Leather will do at a push.”

    You can usually find a way in via the toilets. As a rat, you’re neophobic, which means you don’t like going places where you don’t feel safe. This makes you both hard to trap and unlikely to pop up while a human is actually sitting on the loo, much to the human’s relief. However, if an office is left empty with the central heating on, the water in a U-bend can evaporate and it might be worth risking the vertical migration from cold sewer to warm corporate setting.

    “A rat can climb up a wastewater pipe, no problem,” says Andy Tyson of Guardian Pest Management in London. “If no one’s there using a toilet and flushing a cistern, rats can come out.” This is a particular problem in modern office buildings, he adds, where wastewater pipes are usually made of plastic and encased within walls. “Rats can gnaw through plastic. Not often, but they have done it and you can tell. But it’s a real problem finding it and no one I know has a perfect solution to it.”

    And once inside, you and your rat family will find the modern office environment has many convenient nesting sites. “You know those horrible ceilings you get in offices – those square tiles that you move and you can never put back straight?” says Rick Young, a pest controller from Manchester. “That’s one of the key locations for rats. Full of lovely wires to chew.” He was once called to a sports shop where a rat had fallen through this liminal zone on to a customer. “Rats are pretty heavy,” he adds, “so you’re going to know about it.”

    For many of us resigned to working from home, those office spaces that we inhabited day in day out, year after year, and then abandoned suddenly last March are an increasingly distant memory. It’s hard to imagine any form of life at all existing between those empty desks and black computer screens. Yet in the year since we’ve been gone, a different form of life is creeping in, making the most of our absence.

    During lockdown, the British Pest Control Association has reported an increase in rodent sightings of more than 41%. “We’ve had reports of rats and mice infesting empty buildings and it seems that their lifestyle patterns are changing,” says BPCA spokesperson Natalie Bungay.

    Since our cities and towns emptied out and there’s less food discarded in outdoor spaces, rats are more tempted to come inside. As one office worker who still cycles in part-time says: “Our office is designed for 500 people and it’s steadily gone down to 50, 20, 10 of us. It’s full of mouse and rat traps now. Recently a mouse scampered over my desk while I was sitting there. And one of my colleagues went into the gents and saw a live brown rat flopping around in the bowl of the loo like a seal. He let out a yelp, pulled his trousers up and shot out in horror.”

    Once a week, he says, the cleaners now turn on all of the sinks and showers full-blast to flush out the rats. “It does make you think that when we’re not there, the rodents are all running around making themselves at home.”

    For other lone office workers, the odd mouse sighting has been something of a novelty: “When there were a few of us in before Christmas, it used to scuttle under our desks and we’d leave a few crumbs of cake out for it. I think they’re bolder now that there are fewer of us around.”

    Pest controllers warn that unless business owners take sensible precautions, rats and mice will make merry. According to the January ONS figures, 27% of businesses in the UK have closed or paused trading due to the Covid-19 pandemic, while only 48% of workers had travelled to work in the previous seven days. “Large office spaces – any commercial space that usually gets a lot of footfall, like hairdressers, pubs, shops – can become a breeding ground,” Young says. warns the British rat population boomed by 25% in 2020, bringing the total to 150m. And owing to the speed with which rats breed, a minor incursion that is not dealt with fast can soon become a major infestation. If you return to the office after lockdown and discover Rattus norvegicus has learned how to use Excel, taken over the executive suite and restructured your company… Well, consider yourself warned.

    There is something end-times about rats – a deep association with plague, squalor and apocalypse that gnaws at the modern human psyche. During the first spring 2020 lockdown we were treated to a series of diverting stories about nature returning to our abandoned city centres: dolphins were (falsely) reported to have returned to the Venice canals; cougars roamed apartment complexes in Santiago; wild boars probed bins in Haifa; goats wandered around downtown Llandudno. But rats are in a different category, something other than wildlife – the undocumented migrants of the animal world. In this grimmest phase of lockdown, stories of nature returning to cities tend to have a hysterical tone. The Sun is already warning of “RATMAGEDDON” in 2021 as “MUTANT RATS” invade our homes and offices.

    “There’s nothing good about rats,” complains Mohammad Hanafi, a technician with Pest Control Service Group. “All they do is mate, breed and cause damage.” He was recently dispatched to a call centre that had been destroyed by rats entering via an air vent from the kitchen. A rat’s incisors never stop growing, he tells me, so they will gnaw through anything to wear them down. “Internet cables. Keyboards. Anything they see. That’s where the word rodent comes from: the Latin word for gnaw.”

    But rats have never had a good press. They are instruments of torture in George Orwell’s 1984; the embodiment of pure evil in HP Lovecraft’s wonderfully nasty story The Rats in the Walls; and one medieval writer wrote that they were so depraved, their urine caused flesh to decay. It was only with the advances in public sanitation in the 19th century that rats came to be linked with plague, disease and squalor – but even before then, rats were detested for their fecundity. A female rat becomes sexually mature at 12 weeks, produces litters of around eight rats, and will mate again within 48 hours of giving birth. According to Rentokil, in optimal conditions two rats will become 500m rats within three years – though you would need an enormous laboratory to recreate these “optimal” conditions and, well, Rentokil would say that. Its shares are up more than 16% year-on-year.

    Hanafi is not alone among pest controllers in speaking of his quarry with something approaching awe. He tells me that rat incisors will grow up to half a metre – in reality, they would starve to death long before it ever got that bad – but it is true that in addition to being able to slither round a U-bend, rats can survive a 50ft (15m) drop, tread water for three days and hold their breath for three minutes. They giggle when tickled; experiments on rats have located the “tickle centre” in mammal brains. Their teeth are harder than iron, and their bite is six times stronger, relative to their size, than that of a great white shark. “When a rat’s bite touches the bone, it makes you faint in a minute, and it bleeds dreadful – ah, most terrible – just as if you had been stuck with a penknife,” reported Jack Black of Battersea, the rat-catcher profiled in Henry Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor. Black anointed himself ratcatcher to Queen Victoria and sold a couple of pedigree “fancy rats” to Beatrix Potter.

    Rats are clever, too. Extremely clever. A trap is nothing to the older, more experienced rats, an exterminator told the journalist Joseph Mitchell in his classic New Yorker essay, “Rats on the Waterfront”: “They just kick it around until it snaps; then they eat the bait. And they can detect poisoned bait a yard off. I believe some of them can read.” Young says he once saw a rat pause at a glue trap that had been laid in its path, return to the bin it had just come from, and fetch a crisp packet to stick over it, meaning it could pass with ease. “I think they’re a fantastic rodent,” he says. “Not just because they provide me with a living. But everything tries to kill the rat. When you think about how much they pack into 12 months of life, you gotta have a bit of respect for them.”

    However, as Natalie Bungay counsels, it’s not as if the rats are enjoying this any more than we are. The disruption to their established routines has been profound and the closure of restaurants has hit them particularly hard. “There’s less rubbish on the streets for them to eat. But because of the vacated spaces, there’s more space for them to occupy. They have to forage much further and make do with other types of sustenance. In the early lockdown, many local authorities were taping up bins. Those rats will be going further afield and appearing in areas we wouldn’t normally see them.” In the end, rats just want what we want: food, warmth and a place to have families.

    As Jonathan Burt writes in his excellent book Rat – part of the Reaktion series on animals in culture – our phobia of rats is intimately tied up with our own self-image as humans. We despise rats for the very things we despise in ourselves: their filth, their lust, their disease, their destruction, their pointless, unbounded, never-ending consumption. Their ingenuity. Their hypocrisy – rats make everything else dirty but keep themselves extremely clean. Rats, he argues – not apes – are what humans fear we will devolve into in the event of societal collapse. Burt quotes the 1930s bacteriologist Hans Zinsser, who singled out rats as humans’ closest rival as destroyers of life. “Neither of them is of the slightest earthly use to any other species of living things,” he wrote. “Gradually these two have spread across the earth, keeping pace with each other and unable to destroy each other, though continually hostile.”

    The American journalist Robert Sullivan, who spent a year stalking the rats outside his apartment in Manhattan for his classic book, Rats: A Year with New York’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants, came to see rats as humans’ mirror species – an indicator of the presence of man, just as the other creatures returning to cities are indicators of the absence of man. “The way I see it, how we think about rats typically has more to do with us than rats,” he tells me. “When we’re scared, we tend to think rats are taking over the world. When we take a deep breath, we see the world is broken, and rats are there to point us toward some things that might be easily fixed, like poor housing conditions and the public health in general, which has been mostly gnawed away while we’ve been too distracted to notice or care.”

    Those who are longer in the tooth feel the hysteria to be misplaced. “You’re never going to get rid of them – it’s just a matter of maintaining the balance,” says Ashley, who once constructed an enormous model of a sewer and domestic toilet set up and filled it with rats in order to better understand their behaviour. Contrary to popular belief, he says, rats never breed more than the available food supply can support; they also stick closely to family groups. He tells me he ended up hugely impressed by their resilience, their tenacity, their capacity to survive. “Fascinating creatures – completely fascinating,” he says. “I always think that when we’re gone, it will be the bacteria, the cockroaches and the rats that will be left. Whatever the conditions, they would reach a balance.”

    But what happens when lockdown finally eases and we have to return to our ghostly offices? Will it be a battle to win these neglected spaces back?

    While the guesstimates and warnings of pest control companies should be read with scepticism, clearly the problem is real. “A lot more people are seeing rats when they’re out and about, which is always a warning that numbers are on the increase,” says Jonathan Ratcliffe of “What we’re waiting for is when people do start going back into factories, offices, all the food outlets that have been shut – well, it could be interesting.”

    They don’t call it the rat race for nothing.

    “Otherism”: What Place Does It Have?
    by Aaron Parrott

    Like many Havok Journal fellow readers, I count as part of my military career a certain amount of what I have come to term “otherism”. Otherism is, simply, the conscious and willful separation between groups of people based on a characteristic. Recently, in view of other life experiences and especially in terms of political discourse in our country, I’ve started to self-examine the psychology behind the process. I wonder at what cost I and the rest of the American public have internalized a potentially unhealthy social practice.

    I joined the military in late 1990, right as Saddam Hussein sent his armies into Kuwait and it became obvious that the United States Armed Forces, along with the coalition of the willing, were going to be asked to sort that out. It took no time, apparently, for this to become a motivator for us green troops. In basic training, we twirled, thrust and butt-stroked our way through bayonet drills: “What makes the grass grow?” growled the drill sergeant.  “BLOOD!” we roared back. “Whose blood?” “IRAQI BLOOD!” (I can only imagine that Hannibal’s troops shouted that Carthaginian blood made the grass grow in their sword fighting drills.)

    The use of otherism in the military is perhaps seen as a necessary shortcut to provide a moral justification for a young Soldier to pull a trigger and end a life. We can’t otherwise screen out those who would hesitate to consider the moral implications of killing another human at the crucial point when that action is exactly what is required for mission success, to say nothing of individual survival. In this way, this judicious application of otherism allows the warfighter to fight without crippling guilt or shame in the moment. For the aftermath, we have leaders and counselors and chaplains and the like.

    But I have a moral issue with otherism. It is ultimately a dehumanizing process that, when taken out of the extremely narrow context of combat, cheapens the human experience.

    Ironically, it took several other experiences in the military to give me perspective on otherism. Two spring immediately to mind. The first was when my team deployed as an observation post above the Shiqal Valley in Afghanistan.We were overlooking a village where a Special Forces A-Team would set up a medical clinic within 72 hours. In our innocence, we blithely assumed that simply by using local clothing and vehicles, we would blend into an environment where the inhabitants were intimately familiar with everyone and everything within miles. The morning after we reached our vantage point, we perceived movement on the trail below us, and we went to 100% alert, expecting the worst.

    Thankfully, nobody initiated contact. The intruders were a pair of local children, bringing two plates, one piled high with steamed rice and dates, and the other with what we were to learn was the last chicken owned by one of the village’s families. They laughed, called us Americans, and asked us to let them know if we needed anything else.

    These were some of the poorest people I met in all my years in the military (which included deployments to the southern Philippines and Haiti); we were in a country that had no reason to be forgiving to outsiders, and yet their immediate thoughts were to be welcoming and hospitable, giving valuable resources to the newcomer.

    The second experience hearkens back to my time as a chief instructor in a joint service school. One Airman ended up in parade rest in front of my desk. He’d failed to complete multiple assignments, twice had fallen asleep in class, and ultimately backtalked his instructor. Having found my rhythm as a stern and humorless disciplinarian, I felt I knew the best way to inspire this young man to success, like so many of his “other” kin.  I thundered at him, “If you have any excuse on God’s green earth why I shouldn’t kick your ass right the hell out of my school, you’d better tell me right now!”

    The student began to cry uncontrollably and his knees buckled. He blurted, “Sergeant, I got a girl pregnant and she wants to have an abortion. I want to marry her and do right by her. I can’t sleep at night, because I don’t know what to do.” His next words chilled me to the bone: “I think I want to kill myself.”

    This was not a stupid other, I realized. This was a hurting, vulnerable person who needed my help. I had been ready to use a hammer on a nail, and that wasn’t what the situation needed. I was so willing to dehumanize this young man to solve MY problem, it blinded me to what HE was thinking and going through. My very next action was to get him out of parade rest and into a chair, and to bring in some assistance from the chaplain’s office to help out. It was the most humbling experience of my career.

    Otherism, in its tendency to dehumanize the “others”, has pervaded our culture, and perhaps has never been so discussed as in recent days. Mentions of racism, white supremacy, sexism, and classism wallpaper our national and local news. Just today in my small central Washington town, an employee of the sheriff’s department came under fire for posting a meme advocating running over protesters with cars, shared from a social media page with the word “libtard” in its title. In my subsequent discussion with the Sheriff, I shared my view that an office with a mission to serve and protect can’t be seen to deal in otherism. In other words, is it okay to NOT serve and protect someone based on their belief, or that they’re doing something illegal yet not life-threatening? What if the crime was not protesting, but jaywalking? Yet I don’t see anyone advocating the vehicular assault of jaywalkers.

    Labels define others as others. We don’t see Americans anymore, but party affiliations, political persuasions, gender definitions, ethnicities, races, national origins, and even spoken languages as broad-brush identifiers. And as our bayonet drills show, it’s very simple, once that dividing line between you and an “other” is drawn, to slide into mistrust, hatred, vitriol, and even violence.

    My life journey has brought me through a wealth of experiences that have clearly shown me the relative moral bankruptcy of otherism as a valid operating philosophy. In coming to despise its use in modern culture, I am led to wonder – and I invite others to explore within their own belief system – if by promoting it as a tool to train for combat, we are promoting an unhealthy tendency in our societal fabric by extension.

    This article first appeared in The Havok Journal September 18, 2018.

    © 2020 The Havok Journal

    The Source of Otherism

    Throughout our formative years, domination parenting and regimentation schooling subjected us to a constant barrage of authority-dispensed carrots and sticks, praise and admonishment, training us to ever judge our own conduct according to imposed, external standards.

    This made us addicted to the dopamine rush of being patted on the head and paranoid about the judgment of authority figures and classmates. We carry this neurosis throughout our lives. Even as grown-ups, we are still approval junkies, constantly jonesing for our next fix of external validation.

    The flip side of this lesson is the conviction that others should continually judge their conduct by our standards, and that it is our responsibility to enforce those standards through force or peer pressure.

    The upshot of this universal curriculum is a world full of guilt-ridden, meddlesome, virtue-signaling neurotics ever at war with each other and within themselves. Most of our problems, both personal and political, can be traced to this backward, abusive upbringing.

    But don’t waste your energy blaming older generations for our plight. Pavlovian conditioning and obedience training were the only kinds of “education” our parents and teachers knew, having been subjected to it themselves in their own childhoods.

    Thankfully, Harry Browne was able to break this cycle of psychic violence by rehabilitating, deinstitutionalizing, and emancipating himself. He rediscovered the freedom and selfsovereignty that dwelt within him all along, and broadcast the message that it dwells in us too. “You’re free—if only you’ll realize it,” as he put it.

    If you want to read the whole piece it is available here.

    Having an understanding of the natural world and science – to my mind, the other side of theism – helps me understand transphobia. So many of the reactions people have are fear and disgust, which are primal emotions. Genetic diversity is necessary for any species to flourish, and diversity in humanity is a very natural, normal and necessary thing. Transgenderism, whatever its roots, is just another part of human diversity.
    My parents were raised Roman Catholic. They didn’t raise me with any particular religious belief, but they would mention God occasionally: if I told a lie, my mother might say, “Well, God knows.” So I was raised with the assumption that God exists. But I didn’t go to church. I wasn’t baptised. I would say my parents were lapsed Catholics.
    I actually remember the moment I knew I was an atheist. My favourite band is Muse, and I was on Wikipedia at midnight, as 14-year-olds often are, reading about the lead singer. It mentioned his religious beliefs, that he was an atheist. I remember a cold feeling washed through me, and I thought, do I have some sort of prejudice towards these people? Do I actually believe? And the answer was no.
    I certainly have values: I value justice, equality, reason. You might say offshoots of that are compassion, empathy, activism through work and interpersonal relationships. Even something small like tact. But those things aren’t sacred to me. I don’t think they exist on a plane that is somehow beyond speculation. And I question my own values all the time.

    I inherited a broken church, with no light or running water. I’m still at the beginning of rebuilding. The most important thing I do is to open the temple every Sunday and explain the religion to people. It’s my life’s mission now.
    I have around 20 brothers and sisters attending. But it’s hard to find people with a free mind. Our doctrine doesn’t offer miracles. Reality is sad; there’s no justice, peace or harmony in the world. Many churches offer a fantasy.
    The essence of our religion is human connection through altruism. Supernatural gods are not required, but we understand that people need symbols. We have faith in love, science and humanity. I have a deep respect for Christianity and other religions. Many atheists make a big mistake when they lose respect for people who believe.
    Comte taught us to continuously update the dogma to reflect changing times. People think positivism is conservative, a thing from the past, but our religion is open-minded, avant garde even. For example, gay marriage is completely OK for us.
    My daily practice is the positivist prayer. There is no need to say anything; you can do it in your mind. But we recommend the use of music, poetry, meditation, reflection, thinking about the cosmic order, to help generate pure intentions and promote feelings of fraternity. The essence of the positivist religion is to replace egoism with altruism. Being a positivist has taught me what’s important: family, love, work, friends. Not God, or priests. Before I converted, I was selfish and irresponsible, concerned with my personal pleasure. I didn’t value these things. Now they are what gives purpose to my life.

    A key concept in Japanese culture is ichi-go ichi-e, which means to treasure the unrepeatable nature of every moment. Noh and traditional Japanese tea ceremonies are structured around this idea. Performing these reminds me that perhaps we have just one chance in this life to meet each other, so we have to appreciate every moment.
    Beauty and tradition are at the core of my philosophy. I believe in the unchangeable beauty of tradition. Japan has an ancient culture. If we understand the story of our past, we understand our culture now.
    The purpose of life is to be present in the moment. Family is the most important thing for me, somewhere I can be completely myself. I live with my husband and his parents; we don’t have children of our own.
    At death, we reach an end. We came from nothing and go back to nothing. We should give devotions [small offerings as a way of paying respect] to our ancestors, because it’s through them that we exist. But the devotion is delivered to the life they lived, not the dead person.
    In Japan, we say there are more than 8 million kami [gods or spirits]. Anything that surrounds us can be a kami. I visit the Shinto shrine for little daily life rituals, to reflect on my emotions and to give my appreciation to something or someone. And for weddings. For funerals, I’d go to a Buddhist temple. I don’t deny the need for religion. It’s a concept that provides rules people can rely on, but I don’t feel I need to rely on anything.

    I grew up in a fundamentalist church in Pennsylvania. They believed the Bible was the word of God. It was conservative, but it wasn’t political – they were just a small religious community, and great people.
    Now I run the Freethought Equality Fund, which is part of the American Humanist Association’s political arm. We endorse candidates, give them money, and try to get more candidates to run as atheists and humanists. We need reason, evidence and compassion in public policy; we can’t have it dictated by bronze age notions about how society should work.
    In climate change, we have an imminent threat that, if we don’t do anything in the next 10 years, is going to change society dramatically and for the worse. In reproductive rights, we’ve been heading backwards for the past 30 years, and don’t know where that’s going to end. The backward trend that we’re doing on voting rights is scary, and we still need to get LGBTQ people included in the Civil Rights Act.
    Donald Trump brought a white Christian nationalism back into the frame. The angry voices we heard in the 50s and 60s against civil rights were back and legitimised by the president.
    I’d hoped we’d be a much better society by the time I reached the age I am. That hasn’t happened; I blame the religious right, which uses the Old Testament, mostly, to perpetuate the patriarchy.
    During the cold war, the narrative was that America was a Christian country and we were fighting the godless communists. Atheists and humanists were lumped into that camp. The stigma lingers, but it’s going away. In 1958, something like 18% said they would vote for a presidential candidate who was an atheist, and now we’re up to 60%. I describe myself as an atheist, but use the term humanist, too. Atheism is just, “There is no God”; humanism says we have a role to help one another. It’s more positive.

    When I was a child, I believed in God, but my belief faded. I needed proof. Now I believe in humanity and the good in people.
    My parents and older sister had Christian confirmations, but they wanted me to make an educated decision about my faith. I’m very grateful that I chose another way. A humanist confirmation involves weekly activities over several months, including a weekend role-play in which you experience what it’s like to live as a refugee for 24 hours. You learn about values and critical thinking, and about human rights. I began to feel that I, too, could make a difference.
    The meaning of life, I think, is to make it the best experience you can, to spread love to those around you. It’s important to see the beauty in everything, especially in human beings. A lot of people think they’re not beautiful enough, and that breaks my heart. Your values and personality are the best sides of you.

    Although I identify as not believing in God in a religious sense, I am relaxed about the language of God in services or rituals. In Jewish practice, it’s quite common to have that sort of dissonance. For me, it’s completely OK to be 100% atheist and still go to religious services. I imagine quite a few members of the synagogue feel the same.
    Religious scriptures can help us understand ourselves, the relationships we form, and the world around us. I see God in that situation as just another character in the story, like Moses, or the Pharaohs, or whoever else.
    For me, it’s really important to have a sense of connection with the world around us, whether that’s seasonal changes, the natural world, or our history in terms of migration and movement of people. The Jewish calendar and the rituals provide anchor points to reflect on life. Observing them locates me within a community, strengthens my relationships, and encourages me to think about how I can contribute to making the world a better place.
    The struggles of previous generations can help us understand what’s happening now. The Pesach [Passover] seder, for example, is more about liberation from slavery and the ways in which we were and still are oppressed than about God. It’s an opportunity to talk about contemporary issues. This year we included a chilli pepper on the seder plate to represent the climate crisis.
    In Judaism there’s the concept of repairing the world – tikkun olam. It’s the idea that social action, doing work in order to help people, can be seen as a form of religious activity. That speaks to me. Being part of a religious community offers music, spirituality and relationships. But more than that, it reminds me I’m on a journey to understand myself better and motivates me to help others.

    As a child, I wanted to learn magic tricks. I was a natural performer. When I read the Satanic Bible, I thought, “Wow, it’s describing me.” Satanism is an atheistic philosophy that incorporates ritual and magic. It looks like a religious movement in its trappings, but it’s more of a lifestyle philosophy. Satanists are born. You can’t become one.
    Our founder, Anton LaVey [author of the Satanic Bible], recognized that humans like ritual; they pine for it. They like symbolism, whether that be superheroes or religion. Religion has been using ritual and symbolism since caveman times. LaVey got rid of the theism and left all the good parts.
    We have no formal meeting place. No rules. We get called devil worshippers, but there’s no worship. I only know one god – and that’s me. I am responsible for my own destiny. We don’t believe in the Abrahamic conceptions of Satan. He is not my god whom I pray to. He is a reflection of me, of who I am. He is a mirror in which I see myself.
    LaVey split magic into two categories: lesser and greater magic. Lesser magic is day-to-day psychology, and how you conduct yourself so that people listen.
    Greater magic is what people imagine Satanism to be: lighting candles and incense and ringing gongs and chanting. Ritual transforms you. It’s like a magic show designed for yourself. I’m my own performance and audience member.
    LaVey rode on this grey line of fantasy and reality, which is what, to me, Satanism is. Fantasy is where we’re able to explore uncomfortable things, new ideas, to map out our psyche in an exaggerated fashion. I think it’s healthy to do this – it’s like play. Adults lose this, and that’s not healthy.

    I grew up in a Seventh-Day Adventist family. I had a happy childhood and felt safe, but we were also taught that the outside world was evil. I grew up with a segregated view of the world and a fear of others. My father encouraged me to watch science documentaries with him. After one, he said, “Science is fact, but our faith is the truth.” That was probably the moment the penny dropped.
    It took me nearly three decades to leave the church. When I became non-religious, the first thing I did was look for other black people who had had that experience. People see you as a traitor. They say, “Atheism is not African: it’s a European ideology.” A lot of people feel they can’t tell their friends. They can’t tell anybody. That’s why we formed our organization.
    The way to understand the world is through investigation, science and research. Science can also guide one in making moral decisions. For example, understanding the environment is now a moral issue. Science has shown that all human beings belong to the same species, so we should respect each other.
    I don’t believe in the supernatural. Everything is within nature. Humanism also includes a kind of philosophy and moral guidance. If there’s no ultimate meaning of life, that doesn’t mean our existence needs to be meaningless; we can determine for ourselves what is meaningful.
    For somebody who rates thinking highly, I nevertheless define myself by the way I feel. My life. My work. I am my feelings. So perhaps that’s the meaning of life for me: feeling it.

    Religion may once have been the opium of the people, but in large swaths of the world the masses have kicked the habit. In countries once dominated by churches characterized by patriarchy, ritual and hierarchy, the pews have emptied and people have found other sources of solace, spirituality and morality.

    In the US, those who say they are atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” is up from 17% in 2009 to 26% last year. In Britain, according to the most recent data, more than half the population proclaimed no faith in 2018, a figure that rose from 43% to 52% in a decade.

    But there are many different ways of being an unbeliever – among them labels such as atheist, agnostic, humanist, free thinker, sceptic, secular and spiritual-but-not-religious. According to Understanding Unbelief, an academic research project based at the University of Canterbury in Kent, “unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena… Another common supposition – that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe – also does not bear scrutiny”.

    Who are the unbelievers, and what principles guide their lives? Over the course of a year (and pre-pandemic), the British photographer Aubrey Wade met more than 30 people from five countries (the UK, US, Brazil, Japan, and Norway) to find out. “Belief is a word we use all the time, often without being able to explain precisely what it means,” he says. “In practice, most people hold at least some conflicting beliefs about the world.”

    Wade, who describes himself as “an atheistic agnostic”, says he was struck by “how many ways there are of making sense of life’s big questions, with and without a concept of God or gods. For some people, unbelief and religiosity don’t go together at all, while for others they are comfortable bedfellows.” In Japan, for instance, “the distinction isn’t even relevant for most people”.

    “The pandemic has given us all reasons to reflect on what gives our lives meaning,” he adds. “I’ve learned that atheist individuals and cultures of unbelief are as diverse as religious ones. What unites them is the drive to seek meaning and purpose in life.”

    The following is copied from an article by Barbara O'Brien with some editing by Harry Coupland. A link to the original is at the bottom.

    The Four Noble Truths

    The Buddha's first sermon after his enlightenment centered on the Four Noble Truths, which are the foundation of Buddhism. One way to understand the concept is to view the Truths as hypotheses, and Buddhism as the process of verifying those hypotheses or realizing the truth of the Truths.

    The Four Noble Truths

    A common, sloppy rendering of the Truths tells us that life is suffering; suffering is caused by greed; suffering ends when we stop being greedy; the way to do that is to follow something called the Eightfold Path.
    In a more formal setting, the Truths read:

    1. The truth of suffering or dukkha in Sanskrit
    2. The truth of the cause of suffering
    3. The truth of the end of suffering
    4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering

    Quite often, people get hung up on "life is suffering" and decide Buddhism isn't for them. However, if you take the time to appreciate what the Four Noble Truths are about, everything else about Buddhism will be much clearer. Let's look at them one at a time.

    The First Noble Truth

    The First Noble Truth is often translated as "life is suffering." This is not as dire as it sounds; it's quite the opposite, which is why it can be confusing.

    Much confusion is due to the English translation of dukkha as "suffering." According to one monk and scholar, the word means "incapable of satisfying" or "not able to bear or withstand anything." Other scholars replace "suffering" with "stressful."

    Dukkha also refers to anything that is temporary, conditional, or compounded of other things. Even something precious and enjoyable is dukkha because it will end.

    Further, the Buddha was not saying that everything about life is relentlessly awful. In other sermons, he spoke of many types of happiness, such as the happiness of family life. But as we look more closely at dukkha, we see that it touches everything in our lives, including good fortune and happy times. In other words, the animated body you identify as yourself is dukkha because it is impermanent, and it will eventually perish.

    The Second Noble Truth

    The Second Noble Truth teaches that the cause of suffering is greed or desire. The actual word from the early scriptures is tanha, and this is more accurately translated as "thirst" or "craving."

    We continually search for something outside ourselves to make us happy. But no matter how successful we are, we never remain satisfied. The Second Truth is not telling us that we must give up everything we love to find happiness. The real issue here is more subtle; it's the attachment to what we desire that gets us into trouble.

    The Buddha taught that this thirst grows from ignorance of the self. We go through life grabbing one thing after another to get a sense of security about ourselves. We attach not only to physical things but also to ideas and opinions about ourselves and the world around us. Then we grow frustrated when the world doesn't behave the way we think it should and our lives don't conform to our expectations.

    Buddhist practice brings about a radical change in perspective. Our tendency to divide the universe into "me" and "everything else" fades away. In time, the practitioner is better able to enjoy life's experiences without judgment, bias, manipulation, or any of the other mental barriers we erect between ourselves and what's real.

    The Buddha's teachings on karma and rebirth are closely related to the Second Noble Truth.

    The Third Noble Truth

    The Buddha's teachings on the Four Noble Truths are sometimes compared to a physician diagnosing an illness and prescribing a treatment. The first truth tells us what the illness is, and the second truth tells us what causes the illness. The Third Noble Truth holds out hope for a cure.

    The solution to dukkha is to stop clinging and attaching. But how do we do that? The fact is that it cannot be accomplished by an act of will. It's impossible to just vow to yourself, from now on I won't crave anything. This doesn't work because the conditions that give rise to craving will still be present.

    The Second Noble Truth tells us that we cling to things we believe will make us happy or keep us safe. Grasping for one ephemeral thing after another never satisfies us for long because it's all impermanent. It is only when we see this for ourselves that we can stop grasping. When we do see it, the letting go is easy. The craving will seem to disappear of its own accord.

    The Buddha taught that through diligent practice, we can put an end to craving. Ending the hamster wheel-chase after satisfaction is enlightenment (bodhi, "awakened"). The enlightened being exists in a state called nirvana.

    The Fourth Noble Truth

    In the Fourth Noble Truth, the Buddha as a physician prescribes the treatment for our illness: The Eightfold Path. Unlike in many other religions, Buddhism has no particular benefit to merely believing in a doctrine. Instead, the emphasis is on living the doctrine and walking the path.

    The path is eight broad areas of practice that touches every part of our lives. It ranges from study to ethical conduct to what you do for a living to moment-to-moment mindfulness. Every action of body, speech, and mind are addressed by the path. It is a path of exploration and discipline to be walked for the rest of one's life.

    Understanding the Truths Takes Time

    If you are still confused about the four Truths, take heart: it's not so simple. Fully appreciating what the Truths mean takes years. In fact, in some schools of Buddhism, thorough understanding of the Four Noble Truths defines enlightenment itself.

    link to original article

    Mindfulness is a whole-body-and-mind awareness of the present moment. To be mindful is to be fully present, not lost in daydreams, anticipation, indulgences, or worry.

    Mindfulness also means observing and releasing habits of mind that maintain the illusion of a separate self. This includes dropping the mental habit of judging everything according to whether we like it or not. Being fully mindful means being fully attentive to everything as-it-is, not filtering everything through our subjective opinions.

    Right mindfulness leaves out any biases we might have. I have taken this snippet directly from Right Mindfulness by Barbara O'Brien

    The Basics of Right Speech

    The historical Buddha taught that Right Speech had four parts:

    • Abstain from false speech; do not tell lies or deceive.
    • Do not slander others or speak in a way that causes disharmony or enmity.
    • Abstain from rude, impolite, or abusive language.
    • Do not indulge in idle talk or gossip.

    Practice of these four aspects of Right Speech goes beyond simple "thou shalt nots." It means speaking truthfully and honestly; speaking in a way to promote harmony and good will; using language to reduce anger and ease tensions; using language in a way that is useful.

    If your speech is not useful and beneficial, teachers say, it is better to keep silent.

    I have taken this directly from Right Speech: Moral Discipline in the Eightfold Path ( by Barbara O'Brien

    Marks of Existence

    The Buddha taught that everything in the physical world, including mental activity and psychological experience, is marked with three characteristics -- impermanence, suffering, and ego lessness. Thorough examination and awareness of these marks help us abandon the grasping and clinging that bind us.

    This taken directly from Buddhism: Three Marks of Existence by Barbara O'O'Brien

    Nothing Is Absolute

    No beings or phenomena exist independently of other beings and phenomena. This is especially true for the illusion of Self. All beings and phenomena are caused to exist by other beings and phenomena and are dependent on them. Further, the beings and phenomena thus caused to exist also cause other beings and phenomena to exist. Things and beings perpetually arise and perpetually cease because other things and beings perpetually arise and perpetually cease. All this arising and being and ceasing occurs in one vast field or nexus of beingness. And there we are.

    Taken directly from The Principle of Dependent Origination in Buddhism by Barbara O'Brien

    I have had a lot of trouble coming to an understanding of karma. From what I have read it is you as you find yourself right now. You have been influenced by many things in your life to put you where you are. Many have been outside your control but many of them are the result of your good or bad actions. If you believe you have a bad karma you can work to make it better by only doing wholesome things from now on.

    For a full look at Karma visit Buddhism and Karma by Barbara O'Brien.

    The following is edited from an article by Barbara O'Brien

    My understanding of Nirvana is a state of being we will experience if we truly follow the correct path and reach a point where all troubles and wants just fade away. It is a result of true enlightenment. Barbara O'Brien says that Nirvana is not a place. It is more like a state of existence. However, the Buddha also said that anything we might say or imagine about nirvana would be wrong because it is utterly different from our ordinary existence. Nirvana is beyond space, time, and definition, and so language is by definition inadequate to discuss it. It can only be experienced.

    It has nothing to do with an afterlife and both women and laypeople can become enlightened and experience nirvana. 

    Eightfold Path

    These are the eight things we should keep in mind when making decisions. Being human we will always stray, but with these markers to guide us, the path we should follow will always remain in sight.

    1. Right Understanding
    2. Right Intent
    3. Right Speech
    4. Right Action
    5. Right Livelihood
    6. Right Effort
    7. Right Mindfulness
    8. Right Concentration.

    Read in his own words why Denis went to India.

    Why I went to India? Obviously, to go to a place that’s warm in the winter, haha. Actually, closer to the truth would be: I went on a Buddha pilgrimage, not a Buddhist pilgrimage. It may seem a subtle distinction but even though Buddhism may be different than most western religions, it still shares many of the same attributes, especially with respect to bad behaviour of some of its followers. I didn’t go to pursue Buddhism, instead I went to learn more about the Buddha, similar to how someone might study Jesus without wanting to study Christianity, even though they are tied together. I did learn about him and the pictures you’ve used reflect some of his teachings. These are what is of most interest to me, not the “religion” formed in his name. My interest in Buddhism is perhaps similar to my interest in Christianity, the real interest is in the person behind them. In a way the religions are potentially a distraction, after all both Jesus and Buddha would not have wanted to be considered members of “their” church.