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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

How to fix Translink’s broken governance

with 3 comments

The need for this article, right now, is almost purely academic. The ruling BC Liberals seem immune to widespread obloquy over not one but a series of scandals any one of which might have brought other kinds of government down. Yes Translink is a problem for those of us living in the region  – and that is, numerically at least, the majority of the BC population. But that is not the way politics works here, and Christy Clark seems able to serve out the rest of her term. And anyway there are plenty of other issues where she is at odds with most of the people who live here, but can survive at least until the next election.

The reason I decided to start writing was a piece in BC Business entitled  “How TransLink might fix its broken business model” which is nearly a month old now but its author, Frances Bula chose to tweet it again to-day, which caught my  attention. Basically the article looks at the turn around in Atlanta, and speculates about a similar approach here.

My comment is under the article, and this post is designed to enlarge upon it. Quoting myself

The problem in Vancouver is not management. It is governance. The present model is unaccountable and unrepresentative. It was imposed by a provincial government that has clearly demonstrated that it has absolutely no interest in seeing it work.

The province has always had a policy that transit is different to other types of public service, and needs a unique approach. It interferes continually but, at the same time, refuses to fund transit properly while spending far too much on road expansion. A referendum is required for any new funding mechanism, but is never required for any highway project – or indeed any other type of provincial spending/funding decisions.

And Jordan Bateman will always be only too happy to torpedo any proposals that might actually work to improve the situation as that would rob this one trick pony of his audience.

A new CEO is not going to be able to change the governance. Only the province has the ability to do that. This government never admits to any of its mistakes. Only a change in Victoria as complete as the one just seen in Ottawa is going to make any difference.

So one day there will be a different provincial government that decides that it is time to reform Translink. Here is what they will need to think about:

The current arrangement has been cobbled together to suit the BC Liberals of the day. It makes no sense now to continue with it, and the easiest point to start might be to unpick what they did by simply repealing their legislation, and go back to the former GVTA. Except that was not exactly popular either, and for very good reason. In its first iteration it was a new body run by some but, not all, of the Mayors with some acknowledgement of the varying sizes of the municipalities. This method of indirect representation is similar to that of Metro Vancouver, responsible for waste disposal and water delivery, regional parks and planning, but there all the Mayors get a seat at the table but with weighted votes.

Translink was supposed to have been a transportation agency – with responsibility for some bridges and the Major Road Network (MRN), but this was really only provincial downloading of responsibilities that would have happened anyway. One of the worst decisions, in terms of its financial impact on Translink, was to replace the Albion Ferry with the tolled Golden Ears Bridge, which has created a huge drain on the agency’s revenues as traffic has never come up to expectations, and revenue risk was not transferred to the P3 – which pretty much vitiates the reason for using that method of funding. Apart from that the MRN seems to have worked well except for one long running argument over a bridge between New Westminster and Coquitlam. On the other hand the ill conceived North Fraser Perimeter Road was soundly defeated and has yet to re-emerge. Though it almost certainly will if the Ministry engineers get their way – as they usually do in the Long Run.

I have long argued that indirect elections are a recipe for discontent. Mayors are not elected on regional issues, and tend to adopt a stance that is defensive of their turf before any regional consideration. But no matter how much you might dislike what your Mayor says over regional issues, they are not the deciding factor come election day. We need representative and responsible government and you do not get that by holding infrequent, contentious non binding plebiscites.

The governing body has to be an advocate of better transit, because this region has historically been underserved for most of its existence, and is the only feasible way for a region of this size to function effectively. Transit is not only vital to the economy, it is also essential to tackle our most pressing environmental and social issues – and those include affordable housing. Where you chose to live determines how much you travel and the concept of affordability has to include costs of housing AND transportation if it is to be meaningful.

And while the province will never make any concessions over the needs of longer distance travel and transport, nor will the federal government in terms of ports and airports. Both levels of government have effectively abandoned their responsibilities with respect to housing but that is not sustainable and will inevitably have to change. And while technological changes may well have some dramatic impacts on how we use the transportation system they are unlikely to reduce demand for movement of people and goods overall.

It is also obvious that you should not plan just for transport as though it was not intimately enmeshed with land use. Sadly, we continue to behave as though the two subjects were unrelated – even if we give the idea of integration at least lip service if not substantive commitment. By and large, when new transit lines are planned it would be much better to get them up and running before the people arrive, if you do not want them to get used to driving everywhere first, which is what has been happening.

So, given that Metro Vancouver seems to work acceptably, why would you not just put Translink under its command? I think that is a temptingly straightforward solution but not one that satisfies the need to improve accountability. Much better I think to reform both at the same time and hold direct elections for regional government – with a Mayor for Metro. This is the solution that was adopted in London. Mrs Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council, but then balked at privatising and deregulating London Transport. It was the proverbial dog’s breakfast and did not last for long after she was deposed. The Greater London Authority and its directly elected Mayor now runs Transport for London – and some related issues that have been downloaded including taxis (which used to be run by the Home Office). Much of the transit service is contracted out, but there is a single integrated fare system, and some of the local train services have been transferred from the national rail system to the Overground.

The huge issue that I have not so far dealt with is the need for much more investment in transit as well as increasing need for revenue support – if only because the use of gas tax revenues has been a victim of the system’s very success at getting people out of their cars. Property tax is not going to be accepted, and the province needs to become much more responsive to the needs of people to get around without a car. This applies as much outside Vancouver as within it. It is absolutely baffling why the province refuses to set up a transit service along Highway 16 (“The Highway of Tears“) between Prince George, Terrace and Prince Rupert. That has to be part of the solution to terrible loss of life due to aboriginal women being forced to hitchhike as the only way to get to essential services. Victoria’s need for rail based transit could not be more obvious, nor so long obviously ignored. Restoring trains on the E&N is only a start.

So yes there is going to have to be more provincial money for transit, and the roads budget is the place to start. We simply cannot afford more freeways and gigantic bridges. We also need to raise money fairly and equitably. Income tax and corporation tax are the obvious places to start, and the odious fees and charges levied without reference to ability to pay have to be abolished. So much less reliance on BC Hydro, ICBC as revenue sources, no more MSP and a thoroughgoing reform of BC Ferries to make it once again a public service and not a pretend corporation. The wealthy can readily afford to pay more tax. There has to be an end to all the corporate welfare, especially subsidies and outright give-aways of natural resources. There will still need to be fossil fuels, but levying reasonable royalties (cf Norway) has to be central to public finance. Carbon tax has worked, to some extent, but the “revenue neutral” mantra has to be abandoned.  We have to switch away to renewable energy sources at a much faster rate, and a lot of carbon is going to have to stay in the ground. At the same time, we have to recognize that far too many people are currently living a hand to mouth existence, and cannot absorb more levies fees and tax increases. We have to be more socially responsible, but this also will often mean better ways of doing things. It is cheaper to house people than it is to cope with the costs of homelessness. The war on drugs is unwinnable, but recreational substance use can be a useful source of revenue – and self medication.

The idea that we can reform Translink by tinkering with its PR and “business model” (whatever that means) is delusional. And like any interdependent ecosystem, we cannot just pull on one or two strings and expect the web to stay intact.  But we can also readily identify where the current policies have not worked and cannot be made to work better just by getting tougher. Most of the knee jerk right wing responses are ill informed and unsupported by any credible data. Better policies are in place elsewhere and we can find better examples than the one we have been so blindly following. And none of this is a stand alone issue. It is long past time for some joined up thinking.


From the Globe and Mail Friday November 20

One change Mr. Fassbender said he’s not going to consider at all is another reorganization of how TransLink is governed. When the agency was first created, 12 mayors sat on a board that directed TransLink. The province changed that in 2007 to have the board composed of non-political appointees.

Mr. Fassbender emphasized that everyone needs to stay focused on what’s really important, not squabbles over how much TransLink’s CEO is paid or what the governance of TransLink looks like. “It’s important that we keep our eye on the goal – an integrated, working transportation system.”


Written by Stephen Rees

November 18, 2015 at 5:37 pm

What this place is going to look like

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I have been seeing links to this report in various places. But not, so far anyway, this

So just to let you know, I got the information about this map from Next City. And after I got a download of the screenshot above this communication from came by email

If you have received this email, you recently downloaded a map image from Surging Seas: Mapping Choices. You have our permission to use this image as you wish, provided that you cite Climate Central, provide a link to if the image is used online, and adhere to our terms of use.

In addition, we encourage journalists and stakeholders to view, download, embed, broadcast or otherwise use these additional materials created by Climate Central, according to our same terms of use:

  • photo-realistic sea level images that you can easily embed on your site, or broadcast, with attribution. Or download the same hi-res images via this page
  • Google Earth ‘3D fly-over’ video tours showing effects of sea level rise on global cities under contrasting warming scenarios
  • our global report with statistics for cities around the world, including analysis of population on implicated land
  • interview clips with lead scientist Dr. Benjamin Strauss

If you do so, we simply ask that you provide a credit to Climate Central, and include a link to us ( when posting online.

So, having done that I think I have fulfilled any obligation I incurred. I am a bit surprised, and disappointed, that there does not seem to have been much take up of this information by the mainstream media. And that some of the links I have followed that seemed to address the report did show just how so much of Metro Vancouver is going to be under water. So I hope that this posting will inspire some better efforts by the people who read this blog.

The subject matter has, of course, been covered here in the past. And my frustration that, when I lived in Richmond, there seemed to be such a complacent attitude towards sea level rise.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2015 at 10:05 am

“so it’s a third of the cost for two-thirds of the benefit,”

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The title is a direct quote from Yves Desjardins-Siciliano who is the CEO of VIA Rail. The story comes from the Huffington Post citing the Financial Post and the Windsor Star. It sets out the case for a separate passenger only railway between Toronto and Montreal, which would significantly increase the speed and reliability of rail service but would not be as expensive a full blown High Speed Rail (HSR). Given the financial position of VIA, and the nature of the demand in the corridor, this proposal would be Good Enough. HSR is a good example of the best being the enemy of the good.  It has been studied extensively – I worked on one such study as a consultant back in the 1990’s – and so far nothing has been done in terms of improving VIA rail’s current service or winning people back to rail from short distance air or driving. It did surprise me, when I first came to Canada, that intercity buses were often faster than passenger trains.

It pains me a little that electrification is still seen as a dispensable option but actually I have to admit that a modern diesel electric locomotive  can be very energy efficient. I just happen to think that since Ontario has done such a good job of getting rid of its coal fired power stations, the greenhouse gas reduction argument should be given much more weight. There are also a couple of considerable advantages of an electric train. First, electric trains can climb much better than diesels: they don’t weigh nearly as much, as they don’t have to carry the generator or the fuel. So lines purpose built for modern electric trains can have steeper grades, and often that means they can be straighter, which also helps increase speeds. Secondly, the energy used in braking can be captured and returned to the power supply line for the the use of other trains. Regenerative braking captures a lot of the energy that is otherwise lost as heat. Electric trains can also decelerate and accelerate much better than diesels, so dealing with intermediate stops is not such an issue in overall travel time. I would hope that the design of intermediate stations would permit fast trains to pass stationary ones, so that even if it is not actual HSR, there could still be some non-stop service between the two major centres, to improve  competitiveness with air. However, given the way that the population is distributed across sprawling suburbs, centre to centre may not be the most important tool to attract traffic. Large Park and Ride lots, on the other hand, will be essential.

I have not seen any of the analysis that VIA has used to come up with the costs of its proposed separate line compared to a HSR, but there has to be a lot in common between the two. Land costs will be very similar, I think. It also seems sensible to eliminate level crossings – and to fence the entire line – just to increase safety.  You have to do that for HSR, but if those components were omitted for a conventional speed line that might explain some of the price difference.  While I am in favour of getting the costs down, this would seem to me to be very hard to defend when it comes to public consultation.



Written by Stephen Rees

November 5, 2015 at 8:20 am

Two tweets by Jeff Speck

with 2 comments

The constraints of the 140 character limit meant that this observation by Jeff Speck got spread over two tweets. But instead of retweeting I decided to make it a blog post.

“When we built our new house in Washington, we too did our best to clear the shelves of the sustainability store.

Yet, all of our green gadgets cumulatively contribute only a fraction of what we save by living in a walkable neighborhood.”

This is pretty much what was established by the BC Energy Aware Committee many years ago – and BC Ministry of Energy Mines and Petroleum Resources Energy Efficiency Branch even earlier. Yes, you can save energy by buying better windows, and putting more insulation in the roof. But simply giving up one of those cars and walking to more of your destinations will save far more. Our built environment is based on the idea of energy that is “too cheap to  meter” and that was a chimera. We are still stuck with that – not just as a desirable form but one that many of us will be forced to live in for a long time. And much of the battles that get fought over issues like transit funding or bike lanes stem from our attachment to the image of the place we thought that we had been promised.

And here are two more (November 4)

“Trading all your incandescent bulbs for energy-savers conserves as much carbon per year as living in a walkable neighborhood does per week.”

“The most green home (with Prius) in sprawl still spews more carbon than the least green home in a walkable neighborhood. (EPA)”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 3, 2015 at 7:14 pm

Posted in energy, Environment

Adrienne Carr’s Letter to the NEB

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This letter showed up in my email inbox this morning. I do not know what other media this may have been sent to. I hope it is circulated widely – it certainly deserves to be. Many people have decided to walk away from this process in disgust since it is so obviously biased. Adrienne gives her reasons for staying the course. Like her, it seems to me highly unlikely that they will pay the slightest attention.

The original is posted with a Green Party of Vancouver heading



Dear Stephen,

Earlier today, I submitted my official Letter of Comment to the National Energy Board (NEB) Review Panel on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion proposal, urging the NEB to turn down this reckless proposal that threatens our economy, our quality of life and our environment, both locally and globally. I would like to share my letter with you below:

I am participating in this hearing with trepidation. I have lost faith in the National Energy Board in general, and in your hearing on the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project in particular.

Failure to consider the broader impacts that this project will have on greenhouse gas emissions is unconscionable and tragic in the light of scientifically-verified and rapidly accelerating global warming (think of the droughts, fires and heat waves in BC and Canada this summer). Considering the vast quantities of fossil fuels that the proposed Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion project is intended to deliver over its lifetime, its negative impacts on carbon emissions are relevant and are of both Canadian and global significance.

Besides not weighing the overriding climate consequences of the project, your board has done much to limit discussion by not allowing verbal cross examination of witnesses by interveners and by siding with the company’s decision to not fully reveal pertinent information about spill clean up preparedness. Your decision to allow Kinder Morgan to withhold such information is particularly egregious given that authorities in Washington State—but not Canada—have been given the information. Such actions contribute to making this hearing a sham. The public has good reason to be cynical. Like many, I believe that no matter what I or anyone else presents to you at these hearings, you are going to approve the project. How tragic for democracy.

Notwithstanding the frustrations I express above, I cannot boycott this hearing. I feel that it is my duty and responsibility to act in whatever way I can to protect the interests the citizens of Vancouver—whom I serve as a City Councillor—and my children and those in the future who will have to live with the decisions being made today. Here are my comments for your thoughtful consideration.

I was born in Vancouver, am married and have two grown children who live in Vancouver, too. I own a condo in Vancouver’s West End, a few blocks from English Bay and Stanley Park. My husband and I chose to invest here because of its proximity to the beaches that I played on daily every summer as a child, and the globally-reknown seawall and park that we use regularly. On a personal level, my quality of life and my property value would be negatively impacted should a spill of diluted bitumen occur either during transport in our harbour or at Westridge Terminal.

Both as a Geographer (MA, UBC) and as a former member of the Executive Team at Western Canada Wilderness Committee, which participated in the clean-up of the 1988 bunker C oil spill from a barge off Washington State that fouled some of the beaches in Clayoquot Sound, I understand the potential of tides and currents to spread an oil spill and how difficult it is to clean up even only a small percentage of it. Perhaps fifteen percent can be recovered under ideal conditions. The rest persists over many years, with negative impacts on water, marine life, shorelines, and beaches.

I understand, too, the disastrous negative socio-economic impacts that a spill can have. As a co-author of the Globe 90 Sustainable Tourism Strategy and former lead campaigner with the Wilderness Committee, I have expertise in the field of eco-tourism, which relies on maintaining a pristine natural environment. As Vancouver’s first elected Green Party city councilor (re-elected at the top of the polls in 2014) I am deeply concerned about the potential impacts—both short and long-term—of an oil spill on the health of Vancouver citizens and on our city’s reputation and economic well-being. Our local economy is highly dependent on a thriving tourism industry. The long term impacts of a spill—especially of thick, heavy bitumen which sinks to depths where clean-up is virtually impossible—are now well known after the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan which is still not cleaned up. Vancouver is striving to be the world’s Greenest City. This goal will be unachievable if we become the West Coast’s major Tar Sands oil port.

The danger of a spill is real. The near tripling of the capacity of the Westridge Terminal would mean an estimated 10 tankers a week: 520 tankers a year that must pass through the Second Narrows in Burrard Inlet, what is considered by many the riskiest oil tanker passage in the world. The big tankers carrying 500,000 and 700,000 barrels of bitumen must leave at high tide. At high tide there are only about 2 metres of draft under the keel. The waters in this narrow passage are swift and turbulent and the tide drops quickly. There is no room for error, but we all know that human error cannot be full eliminated. The risks are too high to allow this project to move forward.

Those risks were brought home to me in April of this year when the MV Marathassa grain carrier spilled about 2,700 litres of bunker fuel in English Bay, just offshore from Vancouver’s Stanley Park. The spill was first noticed by a recreational sailor. It took 13 hours for our city to be officially informed of the spill. Small releases continued from April 8 to April 13—five days—until the point of leakage was finally identified. The Coast Guard and Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not have any scientists on staff to sample the waters and wildlife for contamination. In the absence of government scientists, sampling was independently undertaken by scientists engaged by the Vancouver Aquarium. The City of Vancouver also engaged experts to scientifically monitor contamination effects on the environment. The oil dispersed to beaches in Vancouver and to the north shore of Burrard Inlet where clean-up efforts began on April 10.

It is still unknown how much of the oil sank to the ocean bottom.

As a member of Vancouver City Council I asked the city staff reporting to us on the Marathassa spill whether or not there was a multi-agency integrated oil spill emergency response plan for our coast. I was told that, previous to the Marathassa spill, staff had inquired about such a plan, but none had been forwarded to the city. In dealing with the spill, they were not aware of such a plan. A few weeks later I attended a meeting of the Lower Mainland Local Government Association that was focused on emergency planning. I asked representatives of Port Metro Vancouver and of IMPREM (Integrated Partnership for Regional Emergency Management) whether an integrated multi-agency marine spill emergency response plan exists. I was told “no”.

This is not acceptable. The City of Vancouver is responsible for the safety, health and well-being of our residents. The completely inadequate response to the relatively small Marathassa spill, raises huge concerns about the risks, lack of emergency response preparedness and potentially devastating impacts of the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project.

This project should not be approved.

The opposition to this project is overwhelming. It includes all the First Nations surrounding Kinder Morgan’s Westridge Terminal. Based on the literally thousands of conversations I have had with local

citizens and the results of the November 2014 local election in which the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project became a key issue, with those opposed now forming a majority on Vancouver City Council, I believe opposition to this project includes a clear majority of Vancouver residents. They have nothing to gain and everything precious to our city’s quality of life to lose if this project is approved.

Please consider my comments, and turn this project down.

Respectfully submitted,


Adriane Carr

Green Party of Vancouver · 207 W Hastings St, 403, Vancouver, BC V6B 1H7, Canada

This email was sent to Stephen Rees


Written by Stephen Rees

August 18, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Rachel Notley’s Speech to Investors

with 3 comments

Like many people sick of conservatism, I was greatly encouraged by the recent change in the government of Alberta. The victory there of the NDP after so many years of right wing domination seemed like a breath of fresh air.

The disappointment I am currently experiencing is visceral. Premier Rachel Notley spoke to the Stampede Investor Forum on Tuesday “her first major (private) speech to an industry crowd, two months after her New Democrats won.”

…it’s the oil sands that have really emerged as our international showpiece.

For more than half a century, Albertans have been coming up with unconventional solutions for an unconventional resource so we can extract, handle and ship it responsibly, to the very best of our abilities.

This attitude of pushing the limits of what’s possible influences every aspect of the oil sands, from research and development to environmental management to the service and support fields.

It’s a tremendous asset which has transformed Alberta into one of the world’s leading oil producers.

And I’m here today to emphasize that the province has a government determined to defend this advantage, by being constructive at home, and by building relationships around the world.

…Alberta will continue to be a healthy place for private investment under our government.

This definitely applies to energy.

Expanding existing oil sands projects, establishing new ones and pioneering advanced technologies — all this requires spending on a large scale.
Under our leadership, Alberta’s abundant oil and gas reserves will remain wide open to investment.

MacLeans has “the premier’s prepared text at the forum cosponsored by her government, Calgary Economic Development and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry’s main megaphone.”

I have been regularly berated by NDP supporters who claim that the Green Party is “splitting the progressive vote”. I will now quote this speech to anyone who dares to claim that the NDP and the Green Party share the same values.

Humanity is rapidly approaching  an existential crisis. If we are to have some impact on the increase in greenhouse gas emissions we have seen in recent years, then it is essential that fossil fuel consumption starts to decrease. It is not enough that some renewable energy sources have been increasing. These sources have to replace fossil fuels, not supplement them. We have to reduce our carbon footprint. In Canada that means the tar sands – one of the dirtiest forms of energy – must be left in the ground. We simply cannot follow a path that sees exports of diluted bitumen as a way to make short term profits at the expense of a habitable planet. We cannot plan to increase exports of coal or LNG either. Which, by the way is nothing like the clean fuel that Christy Clark likes to pretend (see: Methane Emissions in Texas Fracking Region 50% Higher Than EPA Estimates)

Of course I want to see Stephen Harper unseated at the upcoming election. If the NDP is really serious about its intentions to lead the next federal government, it would be making overtures to the Liberals to create an anti Conservative electoral pact. It is simply not good enough to hope that a coalition can be formed after the election. But that seems to be their current strategy. I do not think that the Liberals can be seen as “progressive” given the way that Paul Martin ran a more conservative than the conservatives economic strategy. And Trudeau Junior does not seem to me to be nearly as committed as his father – to anything at all! But he sure would like to be elected. And will say anything at all to make that possible.

And to those that still think that somehow the economy trumps the environment I can only say that they are just not paying attention. Renewable energy is showing itself to be a significantly better investment in terms of local employment – even if you disregard the huge environmental benefits. You also need to be blind to the current impacts of less than 2C of warming that we are currently experiencing. If you think long hot summers with droughts and forest fires are bad now,  I feel certain that what we are seeing now will seem mild in comparison to what is coming. The loss of the bees and the salmon seems to be getting some attention too. About time.

Notley again

“the energy sector needs stability to keep Albertans employed and to innovate as it confronts climate change.”

Which seems as usual to be pinning her hopes on the elusive carbon capture and storage which has always been  just around the corner – and always will be. At least Alberta is also a leader in wind energy – the Calgary LRT already runs exclusively on wind power. They will probably be beating us in solar panels and geothermal too, given the miniscule attempts being made in BC and our foolish commitments to Site C and run of the river.

Calgary Transit C Train

Pincher Creek

Afterword: and the BC NDP is no better.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 11.24.27 AM

The LNG in question would be produced from fracking. Fugitive methane from fracking makes it worse from the GHG perspective than coal. BC LNG is unlikely to be cost competitive for the export markets it is aimed at: the Chinese, for example, have already signed a deal for Russian gas at a price BC could never match let alone beat. But if the BC NDP wants to claim it cares about the environment it cannot at the same time support more fracking for gas here.

Written by Stephen Rees

July 10, 2015 at 11:35 am

“What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?”

with one comment

Greenpeace Shell BC

Illustration taken from GreenPeace

One of the benefits of having a blog – and one of its curses too – is that I get things in the email that other people want me to put on my blog. Or write about on my blog. This is one of those: it comes from The Nation which is a magazine whose web site operates behind a paywall. So I get a complimentary log in to see articles which they think I will direct you to. Many are worthy, and I understand why The Nation wants to stay in business and keep paying its journalists to provide content. But, as far as possible, I continue to try and find sources that are not paywalled.

Today the news is full of two things that everybody is writing about: the new Papal encyclical and the latest American shooting atrocity. The Nation has three, searing articles about that and how this church and this date were neither randomly picked. And a commencement speech by Naomi Klein to the College of the Atlantic on June 6, 2015.

Mine is not going to be your average commencement address, for the simple reason that College of the Atlantic is not your average college. I mean, what kind of college lets students vote on their commencement speaker—as if this is their day or something? What’s next? Women choosing whom they are going to marry?

So as it happens there’s a couple of things here that have resonance with me. Firstly the Atlantic has, very wisely, closed comments on the three articles about the Charleston massacre. After yesterday, I have been seriously thinking that might not be too bad of an idea here, but two comments from the Usual Suspects set me straight on that. We do have good discussions here, and one wingnut is not going to be allowed to upset that. Secondly, one of the topics that Naomi Klein addresses speaks to something I have been thinking about.

These days, I give talks about how the same economic model that superpowered multinationals to seek out cheap labor in Indonesia and China also supercharged global greenhouse-gas emissions. And, invariably, the hand goes up: “Tell me what I can do as an individual.” Or maybe “as a business owner.”

The hard truth is that the answer to the question “What can I, as an individual, do to stop climate change?” is: nothing. You can’t do anything. In fact, the very idea that we—as atomized individuals, even lots of atomized individuals—could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, or changing the global economy, is objectively nuts.

Recently Jane Fonda visited Jericho Beach and spoke there about pipelines and coastal tankers and whatnot, and of course the commenters weighed in as usual, being snide about how Jane chose to travel here, and thus was some kind of hypocrite because that trip used fossil fuel. Just as the same cabal has chided Al Gore for his campaigning on the same topic.

Maybe the Pope is going to be different. Maybe his speech will start the moral shift that is needed in the corridors of power to finally address the issue. Of course the fact that someone inside the Vatican leaked the encyclical (not a usual turn of events) and that Jeb Bush was already out front of it seem to point in the direction that the pontiff will be going. A bit like the way the President has had to acknowledge on gun control.

But continuing the “fair use “privilege, here is how Naomi Klein sees it towards the end of her speech

….the weight of the world is not on any one person’s shoulders—not yours. Not Zoe’s. Not mine. It rests in the strength of the project of transformation that millions are already a part of.

That means we are free to follow our passions. To do the kind of work that will sustain us for the long run. It even means we can take breaks—in fact, we have a duty to take them. And to make sure our friends do too.

And, as it happens you can also watch – for free –  what Naomi Klein said on YouTube

And also here is what she has to say about the Pope’s new message


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