Non-Financial Blockchain Enabled Climate Tech

Originally published Jun 7, 2023 in Refi-Roundup with co-author Tarah Stafford and edited by Nura LinggihAnna Kaic from the Refi DAO team. 


Unlocking the Power of Non-Financial Blockchain Tech as Climate Solutions 🌏

Much of the discussion around blockchain technology is often focused on cryptocurrencies or the plethora of meme coins and scams that are often built on top. Yet as the world struggles to address the urgency of the climate crisis, blockchain has the potential to be a game-changer in the murky waters of international coordination, resource allocation, and international accountability. Innovative crypto financial instruments and ‘tokenomics’ may play an important role as climate solutions, but let’s a step back to examine some of the core applications of the evolving foundational technology itself…

Carbon Accounting 🧮
It’s been said that what gets measured gets done. Accurate carbon accounting is critical if we are going to get serious about climate action. Yet currently, carbon accounting is done using a hodgepodge of non-standardized, jurisdictional, and proprietary carbon accounting tools and methodologies. These systems lack interoperability, are not easily monitored or verified, and are prone to centralized server operational security (opSec) vulnerabilities.

Using standardized, decentralized, free open source protocols could create a foundation for widely used and more useful carbon accounting at all levels of government. Organizations such as Blockchain for Climate and the Open Earth Foundation are leading this charge with government pilot projects around the world to implement robust and verifiable systems for monitoring and managing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). 🙌

Why use blockchain for carbon accounting? | IntellectEU
Supply Chain Management 🏭
Global supply chains suffer from many of the same challenges as carbon accounting: expensive vendor lock-in, data fragmentation and inaccessibility. This makes it challenging to create critical efficiencies or to have international accountability.

Blockchain can be a neutral, transparent and universal foundation for applications that ensure traceability, allowing every transaction and movement of goods to be recorded on an immutable ledger and verified in real-time. Zero-knowledge proofs also provide new opportunities to protect trade secrets while retaining reliable verification of data.

Organizations like Permet Systems and The New Fork (Open Food Chain) are two leading examples building real-world templates for scaling this kind of infrastructure in their industries (fashion and food). 🙌


Source: @permetsystems

Impact Certificates, Decentralized Identity, and Oracles 🪩
Individual actions play an important role in creating positive impact from the bottom up. By bringing this valuable data on-chain, we may be able to unleash scalable databases of impact certificates with trust and accountability. This approach would create a true “resume of good work” for participants. Consider the Hypercerts primitive, which can be built to acknowledge and reward individuals who support renewable energy projects, reduce carbon emissions, adopt regenerative agriculture methods, or create any other form of positive impact.

Source: @hypercerts

A key building block for this kind of infrastructure is decentralized identity – the idea that individuals should be able to have control over their digital identities without relying on centralized authorities or intermediaries. For example, protocols like Gitcoin Passport enable individuals to verify their personhood and then connect this to the impact work attributable to them.


On the other side, once a person (or their handle) is identified, how is the impact they create verified? In the case of carbon mitigation projects, MRV (monitoring, reporting and verification) depends on data collected from sources such as satellites, drones and on-the-ground sensors. Oracles are the software that brings this valuable data on-chain and they play a key role in carbon accounting and crediting, as well as in creative strategies around crop insurance and the incentivization of GHG reduction strategies in agriculture, oceans, and forestry. Shamba Network and Astral Protocol have both been pioneers in this work. 🙌

Astral Protocol Tech Stack (Source: Astral)

Let’s build together 🫡
In conclusion, while international coordination remains a significant obstacle to climate action, non-financial blockchain technology offers promising solutions. Yet it is important to note that while this technology holds great potential, it is not a panacea to fix all of humanity’s woes. Furthermore, to truly harness its potential, we must shift gears from talking and speculating to building, doing, and demonstrating. We must embrace a collaborative mindset, recognizing that blockchain technology is a catalyst that requires collective efforts to unleash its full potential. By combining our expertise, resources, and ambitions, we can harness the power of blockchain to drive meaningful change and accelerate progress towards a more sustainable, resilient, and regenerative future. Let’s grow 🌱

If you want to dive deeper into these ideas keep an eye out for interesting events and activities on Gitcoin’s community hub pages. We will be sharing talks and hackathons as well as opportunities to get involved in exciting projects and even earn impact certificates.

Visit Gitcoin Community Hub! 👀

Don’t be the Reason Your Employer Got Hacked While Working From Home!

I created this list of tools a while ago for friends exploring privacy and security related software and I decided to expand it into this article after having a few other people asking me about tools and tips for how to stay safe and protect your privacy.

I’m not a security professional, I’m just a regular person who started paying more attention to this stuff after having some of my accounts compromised and now I help the organizations I work with and people in my life to stay safe online.

I wrote this to be relevant for anyone but is also worth some extra thought for anyone working from home for a company that could be the target of hackers (almost everyone with a job they can do remotely). 

As the world has adjusted to “social distancing” as a lot more private information is being shared online in any number new ways. Ransomware, data breaches and new kinds of attacks are happening more and more in our increasingly online world and you don’t have to be a celebrity or a politician to be at risk.

This is a guide for how you can avoid being the reason your company is vulnerable to this kind of attack and also help you keep your personal information and private pictures and other files safe from the automated hacks that so many people have become victims of in recent years.

Know Your Threat Model 

Figuring out how to stay secure and private online depends on your “threat model”. For most of us the bottom line of privacy and security is that we would like our private information like our banking pin codes and medical records to be safe. Generally we would all prefer that our private photos and messages remained private. But increasingly everyone doesn’t want to be the reason their company was hacked and lost money or worse the personal information of their customers.  Even if you aren’t worried about keeping your own passwords and secrets private I’m pretty sure the place you work does care about their information being secure.

Most of us are more at risk from hackers that send phishing emails or other forms of generic direct messages to thousands of people as opposed to more targeted attacks but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about more targeted attacks too if our passwords aren’t secure.

For some people like activists, journalists, cryptocurrency investors or celebrities there may be an additional layer of concerns that lead to the need for even more caution and some specific tools not listed below. That being said the tools listed below are all useful to a wide range of people regardless of your threat model. 

Security and privacy and different but connected. Being good a security will increase your privacy in terms of who has access to your files and personal information. But not everything that is good for security is also good for privacy.

Starting with Your Devices

If security is the main goal then Apple and Google products do a good job especially if you do the most important thing which is using a different strong password with each account and two factor Authentication (also know as 2FA… see below for more details) but both companies harvest your data and use it to build a profile of you for marketing and the personalization of your experience on the devices among other things. Google sells your data but Apple keeps it all for themselves. Both are good at security. 

Apple claims to not share your information whereas Google sells your data as part of their business model. Apple also has more of a “walled garden” and does a fair amount to control what apps are on the platform and what information they have access to which is good in terms of security.

That being said if you are on an iPhone and using Facebook tools like Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram)  or any of the Google tools like Gmail, Google Maps, Google search, Google Calendar etc you are still giving permission for a lot of your data to be tracked and sold just like if you were on an Android phone. Apple has limited tracking between apps recently which is good but still within those apps you are giving away a lot of data.

 If privacy is your priority that will lead you to reducing your use of some of the services I just mentioned regardless of what kind of device you use. Personally I use all of those apps but I like to at least have privacy focused apps as secondary options that don’t share your data for all the basic services. This gives me options to use for personal conversations or a place to talk strategy at work as well as better options for online shopping and keeping my personal information private. 

Desktops and Laptops

Windows is inherently less secure than MAC OS and the most secure is Linux or Chrome OS operating systems just given the number of viruses and malware written specifically for Windows. All operating systems can be hacked and most of us aren’t going to change devices unless we have to. Windows is also more widely used because its generally less expensive.

The important thing is being aware of the risks associated with the operating systems we use and finding the right tools to protect those system. Generally its the apps we use and the sites we visit or the messages we receive via email, SMS or other messaging service that create problems.  Its important to be very careful about what you click on. It’s also smart to have your important files stored in encrypted storage either online or offline on a hard drive.

A good starting point for increased privacy is using DuckDuckGo as the search engine you use in your browser or even switching to Firefox from Google Chrome entirely so you know you won’t be re-targeted by ads immediately everywhere you go online.  Using the built in privacy settings in your browser is a good idea no matter which browser you use. This applies to phones and desktops or laptops.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do in terms of security is to take a look at if your existing accounts that may have been part of any hacks or “data breaches”. If you put your email into this tool from Mozilla it will compare it against a large database of all known data breaches and show you if any of your accounts associated with your email has been compromised. This is a free service from Firefox. You will find out if you need to go change your password anywhere right away or if any other information about you has been leaked. Its scary to see how many data breaches take place. Its a big reason the tools and tips in this article are important.

Its very important to not use the same user name and password on multiple different services. The most common way to get hacked is for people to use lists of emails and passwords from one breach to try to access user accounts on other services. This can be done with bots and often you won’t even know you have lost access to your accounts until its too late. If nothing else use better passwords for work and banking and medical stuff.  Passwords managers are a god send in terms of better password management. If you only do one thing from this site switching to using a password manager should be it.  

Password Manager There are a ton of different options in this category. Just using the password manager built into your browser is better than nothing but ideally you would use a tool like BitWarden or LastPass. I prefer BitWarden because its open source and the pricing is better than LastPass for more advanced features.

 Convenient browser extensions exist for both these tools that work on Firefox or Chrome and Safari too. That makes it a really convenient way to manage all your passwords in apps and on your browser. You can also manage secure notes and credit card information for filling form fields when paying for things. The real hardcores generally opt for KeyPass which doesn’t connect to the internet but that involves a bit more work to get it set up and to transfer stuff from one place to another. I’m guessing if you are reading this you probably aren’t one of those hardcore privacy focused people you are just a regular person who wants to be a bit more secure, in that case I would suggest BitWarden and their browser extension. The free version is good enough for most people and it works great on desktop and on the phone.

Two Factor Authentication (2FA) tokens – Using a second way to identify you when you log into a site after you enter your password or “Two factor authentication” (2FA) might be a bit annoying when you are trying to log into something but it really is essential for anything important. Unfortunately not many banks or credit card companies have it set up on their websites which I find bizarre. But you probably can use it for many important things like your works email system and your own email (which is probably used for back up codes for anything you lose access to and can be exploited by hackers to get access to anything where its used that way).  Its way better to use an app that creates authentication tokens as opposed to using SMS text messages for 2FA. Unfortunately sharing your phone number can be a vulnerability. “Sim jacking” is what hackers call it when they pretend to be you and get services transferred away from your phone to their phone and then they have the ability to get around your 2FA. More on that below.

So for 2FA I love Authy. Again works on all platforms and easy to set up and secure and easy to restore from backup (unlike Google Authenticator). Good User experience compared to other options. Some say it is more secure to use something that doesn’t connect to the internet but unless you are particularly at risk of being targeted by hackers its still way better than not using 2FA and its convenient and easy to set up.

Phone numbers (+ sms text)

Its generally best to not use your own cell number for online shopping or sharing it in other ways online.  Sim jacking happens because hackers find your phone number associated with your name during data breaches. Your phone number can also be a way to track you remotely because your cellphone sends “pings” regularly to cell towers and this is actually reasonably easy information to get your hands on sadly.  Even if you aren’t concerned about that to some people the most important reason not to use your own phone number for online shoping is because it will dramatically reduce the amount of spam calls you get on your phone.

This tool is also useful for getting secondary phone numbers in different area codes, separate work/ personal numbers and it’s great for online shopping or online dating. As mentioned before this is especially important as increasingly hackers use SIM hacking to take over peoples cell phones. Avoid using SMS text messages for 2 factor authentication. 

Sudo is a great app for both iPhone and Android and has a desktop version for Mac (hopefully soon on Windows as well). They give you a free phone number you can use for online shopping, dating etc. It can also be useful if you want to use a separate number for work and personal use. The paid plans are reasonable if you want to make this your primary phone. Experts suggest never giving anyone your actual phone number and just using the forwarding numbers created by a service like Sudo. There are other options but I think this one is the best and easiest to set up. Services like Twillio can do even more and are customizable but it takes some knowledge and time to set up. 

Instant Messaging and Video Calls (end to end encrypted) Instead of using WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger a lot of people are switching to Signal or other end to end encrypted apps for messaging and video calls internationally. In fairness Whatsapp also has this kind of encryption but given its owned by Facebook and still sells your metadata many have decided to go with other options. Of course you can only talk to people if they are also using these platforms. The recent rush towards Signal has made that a lot easier. Signal has been one of my favourite apps for years and its just gotten better 

Signal is a non-profit project. Its an open source messaging alternative started by one of the former founders of WhatsApp. Its very popular and dependable. Until recently it didn’t have video messaging on mobile but now it works well on all platforms (although you need to use linux to add it to a chromebook if you have one). That being said it is probably the most trusted and broadly used end to end encrypted messaging tool ever made. Even Edward Snowden recommends it. 

Secure email that doesn’t sell your data 

Protonmail is serious about privacy and security. They host their servers in an abandoned nuclear fall out shelter in Switzerland. Emails between Protonmail accounts is end to end encrypted meaning nobody can read them besides you and the other person you are talking to (if you both use ProtonMail or another end to end encrypted email service). That being said emails sent to any traditional email client are no more safe than anything else in the sense that your emails are still being scanned and stored on their servers and accessible by staff or others potentially. 

From a security point of view Gmail and other large providers are actually very secure. The bigger concern is privacy. They scan all emails for marketing and re-targeting purposes and staff at Gmail ultimately have full access to your messages. I personally have used Gmail since it launched and will continue to for some things but I have moved all my banking, health and personal email to Protonmail.

I also use Fastmail for all my online shopping. They also don’t scan your emails and I wanted to keep my email addresses separate so that if any of those services I use are hacked they don’t have information about my more personal accounts. This might be a step too far for many people. It could be good enough to switch to either Fastmail or Protonmail or even to just ensure your gmail is secured properly. Again its just a matter of your priorities. If you care about your privacy than these two apps are better options than gmail.

Secure note taking that isnt harvesting your data.  This is a great simple free note taking tool that isn’t scanning everything you write for their marketing purposes. The paid version has more advanced editors for html and other code languages as well as mark down and to do lists etc. The free version is just plain text but still useful. Syncs easily with Google drive and drop box if you want to do that too. 

The gold standard for secure 2 Factor Authentication … Yubikey. The hardest security to bypass. Still not enough sites and apps use it but Bitwarden and LastPass do (with the paid versions) as well as all Google suite products, DropBox, Facebook and some other important things. Can also be used to log into your computers account via Hello Windows on PCs. Its a good idea to have at least two of these keys that you keep seperate in case you lose one and never to leave them plugged into your computer . Its like leaving a key in your front door.

File sharing for bigger files done directly peer to peer and encrypted (no company server in the middle where others can read things).  I would have said FireFox Send but that doesn’t seem to be available any more. Here is another decent option if you don’t want to use DropBox or Google Docs.

You could also use for large file sharing and storage and they use good encryption and security features. Its a data storage tool like google Drive wheres as Tresorit is just a way to send a large file. It creates a link you can share via email or direct message or whatever.  Often I will just use Signal to share files unless they are huge. For the real hardcores you can use Onion Share on the TOR network but that is beyond the needs of most people. If you are primarily worried about security then using Google Docs or Air Drop in the Apple ecosystem are secure as long as your passwords are secure.

VPNs and DNS – At home and on public wifi

There are way too many Virtual Private Network (VPN) options. If you watch youtube videos you likely have seen a ton of ads for them. Although they all might be better than using a public wifi network in a coffee shop or airport without them the problem is many VPNs actually track all of your web traffic for marketing and re-targeting purposes. I like Proton VPN, if you use ProtonMail you have access to it automatically. They also do not track your web traffic and they have a free version that works pretty well. You can pay a bit more and its really fast and private.

Finally what about the information your web service provider or your mobile phone data provider has? Your DNS records are a history of every website you ever visited that they have total access to.

According to Wikipedia the Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical and decentralized naming system for computers, services, or other resources connected to the Internet or a private network. It associates various information with domain names assigned to each of the participating entities.

Long story short your DNS also contains a history of all your web traffic. The simplest way to avoid this is to use a tool like Cloudflares

They have desktop and mobile versions. They also help speed up your internet because all the tracking etc that many website are loading behind the scenes are blocked. Cloudflare is a very popular website security tool that helps block hacking attacks like denial of service attacks if you have a website. They claim to not track any of your individual or company data. Personally I trust them more than my internet or phone company. There are other ways to do private DNS routing but this is by far the easiest. You just install the app and flip a switch to turn it on. It also works as a VPN so its like two things in one and its free.

Open Source? 

Wherever possible I tried to prioritize open source apps. Open source projects are generally better for security because experts can review the code and provide reassurance that the networks are secure. Also they often have a community of people looking for bugs and fixing them. 

This is far from an exhaustive lists, its just tools that have worked well for me.  I have some mixed feelings about a bunch of the tools that are out there. Nothing is perfect but that doesn’t mean something isn’t better than nothing. For those that want to completely do-google their lives I would suggest searching for videos (ironically on youtube which is owned by google) and you will find a lot of videos as well links to articles on website that walk you through how to set up custom ROMs on some specific Android phone. You can also find places to buy a phone that someone else has set up with privacy and security in mind. But again that is well beyond what most people will feel the need to do in their own lives. Just taking a few steps outlined above can make save you from some serious headaches at work and in your personal life. It can actually make things more convenient and less stressful if you put a little time into setting things up.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or suggestions for other tools or tips. Good luck out there. 

Web3 Climate Solutions?

The Merge and Beyond: Gitcoin and decentralized crowdfunding for Web3 climate solutions

Originally published on My Climate Journey

The Merge

One of the biggest events in the history of cryptocurrency, and what we now call
web3, just happened. On the morning of Sept. 15, 2022, the Ethereum blockchain transitioned off “mining” on powerful, energy-intensive, single purpose computers in warehouses by switching the underlying security mechanism for the blockchain. In the process of this change of code, Ethereum energy consumption fell by 99.5%.

This is arguably the single biggest reduction in energy consumption by any industry in modern history. With “The Merge” on September 15th, Ethereum reduced its annual energy consumption and associated emissions by approximately 41 million tons, or the equivalent of Sweden.

To celebrate this historic moment, I invite you to join us in exploring the climate solutions projects currently looking for support in the 15th quarterly Gitcoin Grants Round (we call it “GR15”) which is live from Sept 7th to the 22nd and features over 150 early-stage climate projects from all over the world.

Gitcoin is a project that aims to fund public goods and open source tools for Web3. Gitcoin Grant Rounds have created a powerful crowdfunding tool that allows project developers to share their projects with the broader community for anyone to browse and fund and unlock approximately 3 million dollars in matching funds each quarter. Over the last year, the number of climate-related projects in our climate solutions side round that have been proposed and funded by the community has grown from 26 to over 200 projects. The magic of Gitcoin is the grants on the platform benefit from something called Quadratic Funding which algorithmically apportions matching funds to the projects with the greatest volume of support from community members, effectively harnessing the wisdom of the crowd.

These innovative projects are already using web3 technology to help accelerate climate solutions and unlock the world-changing transition that is necessary. Allow me to share with you how and why this technology can be useful.

“Trustless?” –  Removing middlemen 

The fundamental characteristic that makes blockchain technology and web3 valuable is that it creates what is called a “trustless” condition. In other words, something that doesn’t need to be trusted because it is verified. It is this combination of decentralisation, game- theory powered incentivization and cryptography that creates conditions that do
not require us to trust any third party to exchange things of value.

Bitcoin used these capabilities to start exchanging a form of money, and now Ethereum and other projects expanded the usefulness of “trustlessness” by facilitating applications to be able to run on a blockchain. Now the only limit to what is possible is the imagination of developers and changemakers exploring potential use cases. Some early examples include directly financing renewable energy projects and forest conservation, facilitating local microgrids, or increasing the accountability and efficiency of carbon accounting at the local and international level, as well as the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of carbon
offsets. It can also facilitate things like removing middlemen in car sharing and so much more.

Composability and Interoperability 

When you talk to developers working on Web3 technology and ask them what they are excited about, very often that conversation centres around composability and interoperability. These are key principles of Web3 which is essentially open source technology being built on public blockchains. This means that instead of reinventing the wheel, projects can learn from each other, grow together and build on top of each
other’s innovations.

Use Cases  

To illustrate the wide array of different use cases for blockchain-enabled solutions, we’ve created some collections of projects based on their use cases from the Gitcoin Grants Round:

Potential Risks to be avoided

At the end of the day cryptocurrency and Web3 are just tools. They can be used for public goods or they can be used to make things worse. Concerns about privacy in a world of open blockchains is a real issue that needs to be addressed. This is part of the reason why Web3 is perhaps better understood as not only a shift in technology, but also as an emerging
social movement focused on decentralisation and the empowerment of communities.

The importance of art, storytelling and community 

Art, storytelling and community play a fundamental role in shaping our technology and the values of our society. You will also find projects in the Gitcoin grants round to support educational arts and culture projects. At the end of the day no tool is perfect but it can help. Our hope is that Gitcoin can help put better tools in the hands of more people and together we can get to work building a better world.

Please and Thank You Alexa, Ok Google?

Originally published Jan 15, 2018 on Medium

 Sales of Google Home Mini and Echo Dot over the holidays (more than one sold every second) is evidence that we’re all salivating over living in the nifty smart home dream that’s emerging but there is a problem.

Let me put that another way. I have a friendly suggestion. Instead of having to ridiculously call out to Alexa or Siri or sadly even worse sharing the awkward indignity of triggering a response by repeatedly saying “ok Google” in public (That’s what I’ve found myself saying a lot recently) I have a suggestion for what could work better.

Now first, don’t get me wrong I love Google Assistant. I can now push a button on my hearing aid and trigger Google Assistant at any time via bluetooth. Because my pricey headphones are pretty much invisible I am often that guy who looks like he’s talking to himself walking down the street while fetching directions or trying to remember some assinine trivia.

But that’s not enough to dissuade me. I love it. I Finally feel like the cyborg I always wanted to be. I can push a button on my chest, like a combadge on Star Trek, and unleash the power of the internet.

I can now use a voice command to send a message to satellites and around the world to servers in Hong Kong and then back again to turn off my TV without having to locate a remote control under a cushion on my couch. Long story short ish… I’m on board. I just have an idea for how we can make it better regardless of which self inflicted surveillance device you prefer.

My idea is this: let’s just say “Please and Thank You” to begin and end disembodied robot interactions. No goofy names over and over and over… just a polite request to the invisible wizards. As in instead of saying “Ok Google, please turn off the TV” you just say “Please turn off the TV”.

If Alexa starts rambling on about something you didn’t want in the kitchen while your whole family tries to eat dinner then instead of everyone yelling “Alexa stop, or Alexa Shut Up” (which works as a voice command by the way) now they could all just yell out “Thank You”. Much better right?

Because my mom raised me right I often say please and thank you anyways when I ask for things from my virtual assistant. I even thank the toaster sometime for doing it’s job so well. But I’m sure there are lots of times I could have been more considerate.

If we are going to bark commands at our computers all day now the least we could do is be polite don’t you think? Maybe it might even train us all to be a bit more congenial in the real world?

Currently I don’t think we will be accidentally triggering our devices very much. We could all be a lot more friendly these days right? How about using this new trend towards voice commands as motivation for renewed civility.

Given all the work Google has clearly done to be able to distinguish natural language and type on a screen whatever nonsense falls out of our mouths it seems weird to me that they hadn’t thought about how unnatural it is to say this goofy stuff out loud all day long before they tattooed the phrase all over the city of Las Vegas for this year’s CES.

Again, I say this with love. I’m typing (and swiping) this right now on a Google Pixel 2 XL. I brought my new Alexa on the plane with me to Toronto like a pet rock. Trained it with my mom and then left it with her as Google Assistant became my go to.

By the way Assistant is so much better… especially when you just have to squeeze your phone or hold down a button on your chest to start a conversation with the electronic hive mind. Maybe soon we all will have trigger buttons sewn into our clothes but this voice command change is important even just for the dignity of naked guys in the shower in the future. Don’t make them shout “Ok Google” to turn up the music while they are bathing. How about just saying Please turn up the volume and before you know it you are boogying in a bathtub.

We should all politely request that no matter who makes a voice command device that we all have the option to just say please and thank you to their robots.

And by the way if the robots are gonna have names maybe you should let us name our new family members. 😉 Seriously though, if you want us to love these things let us personalize them more. But anyways… it’s early.

There are still lots of other issues to address before we are all living the life of lazy luxury we are hoping for. I can’t wait to talk crypto prices with an Alphabet brain and buy Bitcoin hands free on the couch while a robot vacuum cleaner uses lasers to attack the dog hair on the floor. My coffee already tastes a bit better thanks to boiling water with a “good morning” shortcut. But often the commands don’t work as planned and I like most people have yet to replace all my appliances with versions that can tell bad jokes and order replacement batteries.

Now is a good moment as we all take trepidatious steps into this voice activated world to pause and consider what will make the difference between a novelty and something we aren’t embarrassed to use in public?

So what do you say? Please Alexa, ok Google?

Thank you.


Is Having Fewer Kids the Best Response to the Climate Emergency?

 I was inspired to highlight this issue by a Facebook post from Prof. Kathryn Harrison from UBC. It’s worth pointing out that her kids Sophie Harrison and Sam Harrison are both doing a heck of a lot to fight climate change and have been since they were young.
Spoiler Alert: I don’t think that is the right thing to focus on. The real question is why aren’t we focusing on the actual fossil fuels being burned by and major contributors of these emissions, multi-national corporations?
This is from a piece I highlighted in response (see below for links in the show notes):
“The packaging industry justifies disposables as a response to consumer demand: buyers wanted convenience; packagers simply provided it. But that’s not exactly true. Consumers had to be trained to be wasteful. Part of this re-education involved forestalling any debate over the wisdom of creating disposables in the first place, replacing it with an emphasis on “proper” disposal. Keep America Beautiful led this refocusing on the symptoms rather than the system. The trouble was not their industry’s promulgation of throwaway stuff; the trouble was those oafs who threw it away.”
FYI: This is a clip taken from the Great Climate Race LIVE broadcasts that I did over the summer while traveling across Canada. The music that was added is via
Show Notes:
On Not Having Children to Stop Climate Change Piece in Question from the Guardian –…
Dave Roberts Response in Vox –…
Sophie Harrison recommended this article re the choice to have children –…
Emphasizing individual solutions to big issues can reduce support for government efforts –…
On the shift to focusing on personal responsibility –…
Drawdown (edited by Paul Hawken) Are you interested in being in a book club? Let me know, my contact information is below.


Canada’s Carbon Tax vs. a Green New Deal

As Canada approaches the 2019 election this fall the discussion of climate policy has focused on the carbon tax. Meanwhile in the US (and increasingly in Canada and elsewhere) the debate around climate action has focused on the idea of a Green New Deal. What are the key differences between these strategies? Are they mutually exclusive?

Canada’s Trudeau government has spent a huge quantity of political capital pushing the carbon tax forward. In fact, weeks ago here in Ontario they imposed the tax on the province against the wishes of the province’s Premier, Doug Ford. Ford hates this new tax so much that he has organized a taxpayer-funded campaign to draw attention to the issue that includes insisting gas station owners put stickers on gas pumps across the province highlighting the additional costs. He feels so strongly about it that he is threatening them with 10k a day fines if they don’t put these stickers on their pumps.

In fact, the Ontario government is currently in court trying to stop the carbon tax from being imposed.

Alberta’s newly elected government has also pledged to axe their own carbon tax and fight Trudeau imposing it in court as Ontario is currently doing. They are also planning a 30 million dollar “war room” to fight environmentalist pushing climate policy in various forms.

Clearly, politicians on the right in Canada feel fighting the carbon tax is a strategic move for them. Heck if you look at the Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer’s twitter account right now it looks like he is obsessed with the carbon tax.

Beyond ideological opposition and a general disregard for climate science, there is a communications component to this as well. Is the focus on the carbon tax the right strategy for Trudeau? Let’s explore the effectiveness of the policy itself as well as the communications strategy and why the right is so eager to talk carbon tax. On the other end of the spectrum, progressive politicians in The United States and in Canada are increasingly focusing on the

First a Little Context – Climate Change and Canada  

Back in the world of climate science, a report came out the day after the tax was implemented on unwilling provincial governments that showed Canada is already warming twice as fast as most other countries thanks to our geography.

And shortly after that, an audit report came out from the offices of Canada’s independent Environmental Commissioner showing that we are not actually taking adequate steps to even be on track to hit our conservative pollution reduction targets. The Commissioner went so far as to call Canada’s lack of action was “disturbing”.

What seems clear is that Trudeau and his team sure give you the impression that they genuinely care about climate change, at least enough to go to war with several provinces over the carbon tax. Trudeau’s policy adviser stressed climate policy as the most important issue to focus on in his resignation letter. Trudeau himself has stressed the issue at various international meetings of leaders and has been greeted as a hero by the international community. Activists in Canada often question his true commitment to climate change given his support for the expanding the tar sands. Banners that say climate leaders don’t build pipelines have followed him around for years at this point.

But the fact remains that this is a government that has campaigned on the issue and sees themselves as champions of the issue in our House of Commons and on the world stage. They seem to have been willing to “bet the bank” and stake their political future (and our literal futures) on using market forces to affect change. I find this point particularly distressing for a number of reasons.

The Fallacy of Supply and Demand – A Closer Look at the Invisible Hand

Now please don’t misinterpret my concern for this approach with an agreement with Doug Ford. In fact, his opposition to this along with the other dinosaurs in our political landscape only really highlights one of my main problems with the carbon tax as a core climate policy strategy. The whole point of the carbon tax is to noticeably change the price of pollution and to nudge if not shove taxpayers into changing their behaviour, purchasing decisions, and business strategies. To do this the price must be high enough to really create sticker shock. That sticker shock is exactly what Ford and others are raising alarm about even at this low price.  Economists have suggested this price needs to be somewhere between 100 and 300 a ton? The carbon tax imposed by Trudeau falls well short of that target at 20 dollars a ton. In a sense, a carbon tax without adequate levels of public support is like putting the cart before the horse.

The carbon tax also may not even have the desired effect even if the price was high enough to make a difference. Dan Ariely is one of the worlds leading Behavioural Economists. He has questioned the effectiveness of the carbon tax in particular as well as questioning the fundamental ideas behind the invisible hand of the market.

His argument, in a nutshell, is that paying a carbon tax creates what are referred to as “moral offsets” in other words if you pay a price for something like pollution it gives you permission to pollute. A carbon tax can actually lead to less environmental responsibility.

There is a far more complicated issue about the use of market solutions overall. Ariely explores the idea of “arbitrary coherence“ in his book Predictably Irrational. He shows that choices are more complex and the fundamental principles of free-market theory based on the invisible hand are fundamentally flawed. The prices we are willing to pay have more to do with “anchoring” based on the initial price based decisions we make initially about a product (see the video below for more on this). To quote Ariely:

“It seems that instead of consumers willingness to pay influencing market prices, the causality is somewhat reversed and it is market prices themselves that influence consumer’s willingness to pay. What this means is that demand is not, in fact, a completely separate force then supply”

Furthermore, Ariely goes on to highlight the implications of his finding:

“Now, if we can’t accurately compute these pleasure values, but frequently follow arbitrary anchors instead, then it is not clear that the opportunity to trade is necessarily going to make us better off…. if anchors and memories of these anchors — but not preference — determine our behavior, why would trading be hailed as the key to maximizing personal happiness (utility)”

Now I would probably be smart to leave the debate of capitalism for another time and place but I will say this.  Personally, I think that debate is a trap and in fact, reading Ariely’s work is a solid reminder that what we call capitalism is more branding than the reality of how decisions are made. In truth, powerful actors use the idea of free markets to push their own industries and their personal agendas. In a sense it’s the same trap that Trudeau and his team have fallen into by focusing so heavily on the carbon tax as a solution to climate change. Some might say it’s the belief in the market trumping all other considerations others might see it as a progressives trying to win the support of conservatives by couching their policies in the logic of market forces. Whichever way you see it the end result does not seem to be winning the support of conservatives or progressives.

At the core what seems to be missing is a sense of urgency around the issue. It seems like there has been very little effort made by the government of Canada to communicate the day to day realities of living in a world already being affected by climate change and the severity of the threat to all people in Canada and worldwide. Still too often we hear about the risks to our grandchildren as opposed to the very real problems happening here and now. Furthermore very little has been done to talk about the solutions beyond the carbon tax.

Communicating Canada’s Climate Action Plan

Interestingly if you actually dig a little deeper you will see that Trudeau and his team have not focused entirely on the carbon tax. In fact they have also pushed for a mix of investment and regulation to effect wide-scale change. Economist Mark Jaccard has highlighted that in fact its regulation more than the carbon tax that has actually resulted in reduced emissions in BC (where the carbon tax has now been in place since 2015).

Why the heck this government didn’t cover the country in signs highlighting how they were taking action on climate change while creating jobs is beyond me. Harpers Economic Action Plan ads littered the country. I saw them EVERYWHERE while traveling from coast to coast in our Prius. Now these were arguably taxpayer-funded political campaign ads for Harper but at least they highlighted some of the ways our money was being invested (often on very much the wrong things in terms of the environment or even maximizing jobs created per dollar). Maybe Trudeau opted to not take this approach because of moral opposition to this kind of advertising, but the Liberal Party has a long history of questionable similar tactics.

So then why haven’t they been raising alarm on climate change to build support for these policies and why do they think a tax is the best thing to focus on?

Some would suggest that polling tells us the majority of Canadians (and Americans and the global community) are already concerned about climate change and support action being taken. Polls done by the government of Canada which were made public by journalists using a freedom of information request found that a thin majority of Canadians support the carbon tax in the form being implemented by Trudeau. Another poll shows that people in Ontario don’t support

Of course polls only tell us part of the story.

So What About the Green New Deal?

Another new poll actually shows 66% of Canadians supporting a Green New Deal similar to the ideas currently floating around in American politics in no small part thanks to the popularity of political spitfire Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka AOC).

One of the main critiques we have heard about the Green New Deal is that it’s trying to do too much. The plan calls for, amongst other things, national job guarantee. This may seem like trying to bite off too much all at once but the flip side of this approach is that it makes actually be resulting in broader support for the proposal given the direct connection to the idea of creating jobs. Often environmental initiatives are seen in the framing of jobs vs the environment. In this case, its a proposal explicitly focused on creating jobs. This could result in creating new coalitions with unions, workers and environmentalists. In contrast, the carbon tax has been attacked by conservatives for hurting working people and slowing the economy. Now it should be said that there is very little evidence of this being the case, in fact BC’s economy grew while being the only province in the country with a carbon tax. Now if we look closer there is a lot of nuance to this discussion. BC was already blessed with a more than ample supply of hydropower and very little manufacturing or other pollution oriented industries. Also, the tax is arguably still far to low to really effect change. The idea behind the tax is that it’s supposed to increase annually at a predictable rate so those impacted have time to plan and make change. This was undermined by BC’s past premier, Christy Clark, putting a freeze on the carbon tax for several years. But regardless of the details lets not forget facts increasingly have little to do with politics. In the US politicians have claimed that the green new deal would ban cars and cows and anything else they think they can think of to scare people away from supporting it.

At the end of the day the question is what is the best approach to take action on climate change. If the carbon tax is ever going to reach a price high enough to make real change to Canada’s economy there will need to be widespread public support. Even at the low prices, we see today (which are offset by rebates given to Canadians on their taxes) already there are many Canadians who are strongly opposed to this new tax. At its core campaigning for a new tax is generally a bad idea. People don’t particularly like paying taxes. Unless of course those taxes are being paid by someone else. Support for the Green New Deal actually goes up across Canada if its framed as being paid for by the wealthy and large corporations.

Making it Relevant to the “average Canadian”

No matter what you call your plan for taking action on climate change what seems critical is that we connect it to the day to day lives of Canadians, and not just when they fuel up for gas.

Reducing the cost of retrofitting your home to be more energy efficient, making the grid more resilient in case of blackouts, providing farmers opportunities to earn additional funds through wind and solar projects, making electric vehicles more affordable and making it easier to find a place to charge up. All of these are just pieces of the puzzle. What seems clear is that we need a vision for the future that is better than today in a variety of ways. Safer, healthier and more attractive.

Urgency is the Bottom Line

Let’s not forget that science trumps politics. We need to stop talking about the impact on future generations if we don’t act on climate change. We are already feeling the effects of climate change today. We are living in the future right now and we are already feeling the effects of climate change in our day to day lives. For many people around the world its already life-threatening due to more intense and more regular extreme weather events, heat waves, floods, desertification, and reduced agricultural capacity. This is already destabilizing the world in a myriad of ways. This isn’t just an issue for the southern hemisphere although they are already feeling a disproportionate burden (even though they have done the least to create the problem). This is only going to get worse in the years to come with all kinds of complicated implications as the result of increased migration and conflict. We have to stop acting like this is an issue for our grandchildren to face. To me, this is actually the biggest failure of our government’s climate communications. There is a serious lack of urgency. The average Canadian going about their day to day lives is rarely if ever made aware of these issues. Communications strategists have cautioned that to paint too bleak of a picture actually disempowers people and makes them feel hopeless. I think our government should take climate science as seriously as the scientists do and they should treat us as adults and clearly express these concerns. If we are ever going to mobilize the scope and scale of changes required people will have to understand why. That requires a communications effort of the same scale that the problem requires. Instead what we have seen is nothing even close to that. It’s not too late for this to change. My hope is that we see the conservative attacks on the carbon tax backfire as the issue of climate change is thrust into centre stage. Let’s hope progressives who understand what is at stake take the opportunity to mobilize Canadians around a bold vision that is equal to the scale of the problem in a way that connects to a vision for how things could be better for all of us.  

Will Cryptocurrency Help Fund the Energy Revolution?



I have spent most of my adult life organizing campaigns, trying to make change for the better in regards to climate change. I am now getting pretty excited about a new technology that has the potential to be extremely disruptive, in a good way. No, it’s not a more efficient battery, electric car or solar cell (that’s cool too but…) I’m excited about what is often called “cryptocurrencies” like Bitcoin. What is the connection?

One of the reasons Bitcoin is so appealing to me is that it’s a mechanism that distributes power and control and takes it away from the big banks. Wikipedia explains cryptocurrency like this: “…a medium of exchange using cryptography to secure the transactions and to control the creation of new units…Cryptocurrencies typically feature decentralized control (as opposed to a centralized electronic money system) and a public ledger (such as Bitcoin’s block chain) which records transactions.” This seems like a great companion for the decentralized energy revolution we need to stop a climate crisis.

As a climate campaigner I am concerned about the implications of the power of the big banks. If we are to take seriously the urgent need for change and we are aware of the availability of viable energy alternatives it’s sometimes hard to understand why the age of fossil fuels has not come to an end already. The obvious answer of course is that fossil fuels have been amazingly profitable over the last century and the big banks are addicted to those profits and keep investing more and more which is what makes these mega projects possible.

Some would argue that the alternatives, like wind and solar energy, are simply not cost competitive and their share of the energy mix is just economic forces at work. The truth is that government subsidies, tax loopholes and favourable regulations along with vastly disproportionate investment from the banks has clearly stacked the deck against alternative energy companies for decades. Despite this, alternative energy sources are now cost competitive with fossil fuel derived energy today in many jurisdictions. In some cases alternatives are actually cheaper than fossil fuels already and the trend lines are moving in that direction globally. Yet still there is a lot of money to be made off fossil fuels and regardless of the implications the banks continue to lead us down this dangerous path.

What’s even worse is that investors like the infamous Koch brothers are coordinating campaigns to try to block solar and wind projects. Why are they doing this? There is a big difference between decentralized system of solar panels on everyone’s roofs that they don’t own or control and the big power plants that they do own and control. Decentralized energy production is a big threat to Big Oil’s profits and their influence just like decentralized money is a threat to big banks in the same ways. The unchecked power of these institutions can undermine everything from democratic processes to fair markets.

We were reminded of the how unaccountable the banks often are compared to the rest of us when over the holidays Charlie Shrem, a prominent Bitcoin entrepreneur who ran a currency exchange, was sentenced to two years in prison. By comparison Wall Street executives never seem to get jail time no matter how many people’s lives are adversely affected by their actions. Shrem pled guilty to his role supporting the now infamous Silk Road, which sold drugs over the Internet. Although Shrem demonstrated significant contrition for his crime and forfeited almost a million dollars, the judge stated clearly he wanted to make an example of Shrem and gave him prison time.

Meanwhile the British banking giant HSBC, was only fined for their role in assisting Mexican drug cartels launder money in 2012 and there were no criminal charges. Then, in 2013, they were again only fined when they were found to be transferring funds on behalf of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Islamist militant group widely believed to be associated with terrorism.

Money laundering is a problem regardless of what currency is being used. So how is it that a Bitcoin executive would get such a disproportionate outcome from the justice system? It seems clear that the big banks are simply too powerful. We all remember the assertion that the banks were “too big to fail” during the financial collapse in 2008. It seems the same logic applies in the justice system: too big to jail. If money is power then banks are the most powerful institutions in our society. This power puts the banks in a special position seemingly above the law. They impact public policy decisions directly and indirectly and make investment choices which shape our world. Keeping that power in check seems fundamentally important if we are ever going to make the kinds of change required to address the climate crisis.

The transition off of fossil fuels and away from the control of the big banks won’t happen overnight. I feel strongly that people working on energy alternatives and alternative currencies have common cause. Of course cryptocurrencies could also be spent on oil pipelines or coal mines but I am hopeful that many Bitcoin supporters share my desire for a better world.

On a personal level I have recently been crowdfunding for a book I’m writing that seeks to be a road map for moving beyond fossil fuels based on my experiences as a campaigner. I’m excited to not only be writing about the role of cryptocurrencies but to be able to accept Bitcoin for pre-orders and donations. If you want a copy of the book or you want to simply support the project my Bitcoin wallet address is 1CGDZaK1EiBqT8NfqxLMRQe6Rc27gQs1SH.

It’s very cool how the crowdfunding platform I’m using ( has encouraged and supported the use of Bitcoin. I am also launching a Beyond Fossil Fuels (BFF) campaign for the new year with Tanker Free BC the NGO I have just been hired to direct and one of my first actions was to set up a bitcoin wallet (1Er18hpVyZUy6RZ2MXN53gWH1KQeYN9vJ). We are asking for Bitcoin donations to help fund awareness raising, policy advocacy and getting alternative energy projects off the ground in Western Canada. We want to demonstrate the viability of the alternatives in the midst of an epic fight against new tar sands pipelines. We want to help people understand and experience for themselves that there is a better way. I hope we can help spread awareness and adoption of Bitcoin at the same time.

Speaking of which, if you are reading this and you want to give Bitcoin a try here is a good place to start: visit and create a wallet. You can then buy Bitcoins a few different way. In Canada check out your options here:

I’m particularly intrigued by the potential of a very new cryptocurrency, SolarCoin. I just set up a SolarCoin wallet (8WiAWvihWK9jKmFEgiVPdWYB3APDMBmcRx) over the holidays after spending some time reading the very interesting “DeKo” proposals. The idea behind solar power backed money laid out in the proposal makes a lot of sense to me. This really gets to the core of the question of what our money really is and what gives it value. It’s very cool to have a chance to see how we can make the energy and monetary systems support each other in such a positive way.

Venture capitalist Ben Horowitz recently said, “money is too weak a metaphor for Bitcoin… just like when people first thought of the Internet, like, ‘oh, it’s the electronic post office’ — well, it’s not just the post office, right? The metaphor is too weak”. Bitcoin, like alternative energy sources, has the potential to be disruptive in more ways than we can even imagine right now and could lead to innovation and opportunities we have not even yet considered. In short, distributing power is a good thing for everyone.

To those of you reading this who are using Bitcoin already, I hope you might be willing to show your support by donating Bitcoin, SolarCoin or some of your valuable time to my work or to other progressive organizations working for change that are recognizing the value of cryptocurrencies. We have big challenges ahead of us but that is also an exciting opportunity. I can’t imagine anyone more prepared to face these challenges than the passionate visionaries who can see a new world emerging. Real change has always come from people like this working together inside social movement for common goals and against common foes. We are stronger together.

How Can We Win The Race Against Time For Climate Solutions?

Originally Published 6/9/2015 - Geogia Straight

On my sisters Marissa’s birthday earlier this week, we decided to go try out some ice cream sandwiches at a place she had read about on a Toronto food blog. The brownie-filled cookie treats were shockingly good but it was what I saw on the way to get those treats that stuck with me. En route, I saw solar panels on the roof of a building in downtown Toronto and I found myself feeling both excited and annoyed. I love seeing much-needed climate solutions in action but my excitement over something that should be common place reminded me of how rare it is to see solar panels on buildings in much of Canada.

In some ways solar panels are ubiquitous in our day to day lives on everything from road signs to calculators but still rooftop solar is pretty rare to come across in our country. I see some evidence of change when I visit my family in Toronto. Recently there has been an influx of solar in Ontario as the result of the provincial government’s feed-in-tariff (FIT) program that makes it easier to sell power on to the grid and therefore also easier to get financing on projects or even to have your roof leased by a solar power company. That’s great but it’s also just the tip of the iceberg. Germany actually gets far less sunshine than Canada yet they are the world leader in solar and we lag far behind. Canada could be a renewable energy superpower. This is both an opportunity and a responsibility. We all have a role to play in the era of climate change. Right now, unfortunately, Canada is on the wrong side of history as we all struggle to face what the United Nations has called the single biggest threat facing humanity today.

For years it has been clear that with solar and other renewable energy technology we have the capacity globally to drastically reduce pollution caused by burning fossil fuels for energy. This is exactly what we need to do.

Meanwhile in Canada, time is wasted on doing the exact opposite: focusing on new oil pipelines and other fossil fuel projects. Countless exhaustive climate reports demonstrate the dangers of a destabilized climate yet we are faced with the expansion of fossil fuel dependence. Every government on Earth shares this understanding yet not nearly enough is being done. The Pentagon describes climate change in the clearest terms when it calls it a “threat multiplier”. This means it takes social and political problems along with public safety concerns and makes them far worse. More extreme weather events and degraded ecological systems we rely on have big implications for everyone. Food insecurity for the most vulnerable and skyrocketing food prices for wealthier countries is just one of the serious problems made worse by a destabilized climate.

The World Bank released a UN-backed report recently that said global investments in renewable energy technology like solar power need to at least triple in the short term. The technological wizards at MIT also put out a report recently that stated that “massive expansion of global solar generating capacity to multi-terawatt scale is very likely an essential component of a workable strategy to mitigate climate change risk.”

As a climate campaigner, I know all too well that all of this can feel a bit daunting. What can we do to make real change happen? One thing is clear. There is a disconnect between the actual potential for renewable energy technology and the perceptions that the technology isn’t ready yet. So I am trying something new in an attempt to change that misconception. I cofounded the Great Climate Race, a run to crowdfund for local solar energy projects, as a way to give people a connection to viable climate change solutions in their own communities. By, raising funds for solar local projects and seeing them come to fruition in our communities we all can have first hand experience with what is possible and play a role in doing something to make meaningful change

This week, we are launching our #PutSolarOnIt campaign where we ask you to imagine where these solar projects could be located. We will seek nominations for community organizations that could be the recipients of solar panels paid for by funds raised by race participants. For starters, we’re asking people to post pictures of themselves pointing at buildings in their neighbourhood that could have solar panels on them. We want you to think about all the lost opportunities for change for the better. Where do you think those solar panels should go?

Running in the Great Climate Race is not only a great opportunity to burn off calories from ice cream sandwiches, it’s a chance to dream big. Let’s make solar panels more than a rare treat, let’s make sure we make the most of the opportunities we have now. I want my sister and everyone else to have hope for a safe and beautiful world. Taking action on climate change is a race against time but we have everything we need to face the challenge and succeed right now.

Open Letter to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson on Climate Change and National Security

Originally published 2/20/2015 - Georgia Straight

Dear RCMP Commissioner Paulson,


It may sound strange that I am writing to you requesting that you read a story in the Rolling Stone magazine, but this piece entitled “The Pentagon and Climate Change: How Deniers Put National Security at Risk” outlines issues that are very important to the safety and security of the people of Canada. This seems particularly relevant at the moment given the news this week of a controversial RCMP intelligence assessment report focused on the growing so-called “anti-petroleum” movement in Canada. I thought it may be useful to explore the reasons why so many of your fellow Canadians are taking these issues so seriously and explore how other national security agencies are tackling these issues.

The Rolling Stone piece highlights a quote that provides some useful context from former U.S. secretary of defense Chuck Hagel who called climate change “a threat multiplier” that “has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we are dealing with today—from infectious disease to terrorism.”  These comments were taken from Hagel’s forward to a 2014 report released by the Pentagon entitled Climate Change Adaptation Road Map which demonstrates how a changing climate will have “real impacts” on the U.S. military and “the way it executes its missions”.  

This is a stark contrast with the focus of the RCMP threat assessment document that characterizes concerns related to climate change as “claims” of environmental groups.

Commissioner Paulson, you once said “…I’m in the business of policing and others are in the business of policy and law”. What actually might be the most disturbing about this report is it seems in fact to be a highly political document.

In your agency’s threat assessment, you rely heavily on oil industry lobbyists and commentators for background information and source material. Of particular concern, you quote the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers asserting as fact that we have no choice but to continue to depend on fossil fuels stating that “all forms of energy production must continue to expand to meet global demand”. This reads like an explicit endorsement of proposed new infrastructure such as the pipeline and tanker projects that are the focus of the social movement addressed in the RCMP report. This is, of course, a position at odds with vastly reduced dependence on fossil fuels that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has clearly stated is required to avoid the worst possible outcomes of climate change. Furthermore this represents a vastly different view from that of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and others who illustrate that a transition off of fossil fuels is not only technologically viable but also economically responsible.

A recent IEA report showed that solar power would likely be the #1 source of energy globally in the near future simply due to reduced costs. In fact, today, as I write to you, solar power is at cost parity with fossil fuel derived energy in much of the United States. Solar is anticipated to be on par or cheaper than fossil fuels in 47 states by 2016 according to Deutsche Bank.   

Change takes time but the idea that we have no alternative but to double down on our dangerous dependence on fossil fuels is simply not based in fact and it does a disservice to the people of Canada and our security for the RCMP to state otherwise.

Mr Paulson, I do not believe this risk assessment document accurately represents your views as an RCMP commissioner who wishes to keep the RCMP out of politics. I would ask that you take steps to repair the damage done to the relationship with those in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada whose legitimate concerns were dismissed by this report and who may also fear that this document signals that their civil liberties may be in danger. With all due respect, sir, this is an important opportunity for you to show leadership and clearly demonstrate that you will not allow Canadian politics to interfere with the appropriate role of the RCMP.  

Furthermore, I think it would be appropriate for the RCMP to undertake work to understand and communicate the security threats posed by climate change in our country and demonstrate efforts to prepare for foreseeable related threats as the Pentagon has done along with numerous security and intelligence professionals around the world.

Thank you,

Ben West

Empowering local alternatives is the next essential #PeoplesClimate mobilization

Originally published 09/25/2014 Vancouver Observer

NOTE: It’s Interesting re-reading this now in the context of the discussions of the Green New Deal which are taking centre stage in politics. I will write more about this in future posts.

What an amazing weekend. It was so empowering watching the livestream of the estimated 400,000 people on the streets of New York Sunday morning marching for action on climate change.

I sat there delirious with joy (and also exhausted from running a half-marathon with an old friend earlier that morning). Around 1pm in Vancouver, I walked to middle of the sunny streets downtown along with thousands of our friends who were taking part in a grassroots event, one of the People’s Climate March solidarity events taking place in over 160 countries.

Seeing and experiencing that march was for me like fanning the flames of a fire with both hands. We are at the brink of a profound moment of change and what we do next couldn’t be any more important. How do we translate a desire for action in to the specific changes we all need at home? These are precisely the issues I am exploring in my book “Empowering Canada” (NOTE: the title has changed since publishing this blog…stay tuned for more information) that I am currently crowdfunding for.

Broadly speaking, it’s safe to say everyone concerned about climate change wants a transition off of fossil fuels to alternativesBut the tricky part is how do we make it a reality at home. That’s where the next big mobilization comes in. Clearly it has not been good enough just to call on world leaders to act.

In recent years, activists have shifted from focusing on global climate treaties to trying to stop projects that would expand fossil fuel dependence at home. 

This has worked well so far in fights against tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL in the US or Enbridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s new Trans Mountain Pipeline proposals in BC. Along with fights against coal and fracking, environmentalists have been slowing the expansion of fossil fuel dependence at the grassroots level. How do we take that momentum and direct it towards better local alternative projects to fight infrastructure with infrastructure?

The idea behind my book is that the next big mobilization should be for the specific alternatives we need to develop in our communities. As Michael Brune from the Sierra Club so aptly pointed out speaking the night before the rally renewable energy sources are already at parity or less expensive in many places. 

Yet the overwhelmingly powerful fossil fuel companies won’t just disappear all by themselves. Even with viable, profitable energy alternatives it’s going to take engaged citizens working on this at the project-by-project level in our own communities worldwide.

It’s critical that communities are actively involved in determining for themselves what projects work best for them to facilitate the needed transition from their existing sources of dangerous pollution.

That’s where the mass mobilization comes in. I believe everyone returning home from the #PeoplesClimate March should focus on organizing around replacing existing or proposed infrastructure in their community with specific alternative energy and transportation projects.

I want this book to serve as a case study for this kind of struggle. Let’s get to the heart of the challenges and opportunities before us. This moment is critical because as new bad projects like Enbridge and Kinder Morgan are proposed in BC we can ride that wave of dissent and turn it into community support for better projects.  I want to make them have to pull down wind turbines if they want their pipelines to go through.

Making this a reality is all about effective community organizing. About a week ago I spoke at a screening of the documentary “Disruption,” a film that makes a compelling case for attending the People’s Climate March by talking about the role of mass mobilizations like this one in social change movements historically. In the film I watched as organizers of the rally in New York trained other organizers. It was a beautiful thing to see a film with such a strong focus on the importance of organizing.

One of the things I heard organizers emphasizing was the value of talking about action on climate change meaning solutions that create better jobs.  There is clearly so much hunger for positive solutions. Let’s run with it.

Let’s turn the threats of proposed and existing fossil fuel projects into an opportunity to empower communities and build a new thriving local economies of which we all can be proud.