Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

Return to “Normal” 15

Returning to normal after pandemic isn’t good enough

By David Suzuki with contributions from Senior Editor and Writer Ian Hanington

After months of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, many people just want to get back to “normal.” We will overcome this crisis. But “normal” means continued climate disruption and species extinction, growing inequalities, increasing pollution and health risks and the possibility of further new disease outbreaks.

Gray oil rig during golden hour

More information on this can be found at:


Posted September 13, 2020 by allanbaker in Environment, Politics

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Return to “Normal” 14

Toronto’s COVID-19 recovery must address the climate crisis

Recovery plan should accelerate transition to zero-carbon city, write activists


Published in TORONTO.COM

Michael Polanyi

Michael Polanyi is a climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance.

Recent extreme heat, drought and flooding in Toronto and southern Ontario are stark reminders that we must not forget the mounting climate crisis as we forge a recovery from COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has hurt people who have the fewest options to protect themselves — those who are homeless or underhoused, people living in long-term care, and front-line service workers who lack the option of working at home. In Toronto, these tend to be Black, Indigenous, racialized, low-income people, and the elderly.

Extreme heat — and other climate impacts — pose a major threat to these same populations. 

Both COVID-19 — and the climate crisis — challenge us to model a recovery plan that addresses deep-seated inequities and improves the health and well-being of all Toronto residents. 

Mayors around the world are rebuilding and reimagining their cities. Paris is installing 650 kilometres of new bike lanes. Seattle is banning tenant evictions for six months. Berlin is expanding access to urban food gardens to 50,000 residents. Milan is planting 3 million trees. 

Torontonians see some signs of hope that the recovery from COVID-19 will bring positive change here, too.

In May, Mayor John Tory joined other large-city Mayors in signing the C40 Cities COVID-19 Recovery declaration, committing to address the climate crisis, and “do everything in our power … to ensure that the recovery from COVID-19 is healthy, equitable and sustainable.” 

Also in May, the new Toronto Office of Recovery and Rebuild was mandated to include climate change and resilience in its recommendations this fall to City Council. Council also agreed to quickly complete the long-debated, 15-km Bloor-Danforth bike lane, and this month Mayor Tory indicated his support for fast-tracked construction of at least two of five proposed bus express lanes (on Eglinton East and Jane).

Now, the City needs to build on these important first steps by ensuring its COVID-19 recovery plan accelerates the transition to an equitable and resilient zero-carbon city.

We believe there is an unprecedented opportunity to forge an economic recovery that also reduces inequity and protects us from future climate shocks. 

Alongside member groups of the Toronto Climate Action Network, we are calling on Mayor Tory and city council to implement — with support from provincial and federal governments — the following cost-effective actions to kick-start a fair and sustainable economic recovery:

● launch a low-carbon jobs strategy focused on training and hiring equity-seeking groups including racialized youth; 

● ramp up energy efficiency retrofits of multi-residential buildings to reduce emissions, improve living conditions and create new jobs;

● expand green space, tree cover, and green roofs, especially in neighbourhoods most vulnerable to extreme weather;

● expand community-based gardens and food programs; 

● provide safe transit options by ensuring accessible and equitable transit service, protected bike lanes, and expanded Bike Share rentals;

● strengthen resilience and emergency preparedness by supporting neighbourhood-based hubs and resident networks. 

Our city will no doubt experience more harsh shocks in the future, whether from climate change or pandemics. Now is the time to build a more equitable and sustainable city that prepares us for what lies ahead.

Michael Polanyi, a climate campaigner at Toronto Environmental Alliance (, wrote this with Lyn Adamson, co-chair of ClimateFast (; and Madelyn Webb, director of community engagement at CREW Toronto (

Return to “Normal” (11)

The core of Emmay’s thinking on our current context might be summarized in this statement of hers:

Those of us who hold resources and influence, organizationally or personally, need to be willing to have uncomfortable and challenging conversations with our peers, communities, co-workers, employees and supporters – and be willing to listen to racialized people who offer the gift of sharing their experiences with us. It is only through the willingness to linger in a place of discomfort that we can begin to fully understand and address injustice in our society, institutions and communities.


What are the responsibilities of environmental organizations in building a racially-just society?

At a time when the struggle for racial justice is at the forefront of public discourse, environmental organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) are compelled to reflect on their roles and responsibilities in addressing the inequity, violence, and systemic oppression experienced by Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples.

It’s a gross injustice that the burden of “righting” our society continues to be borne by the people who experience the most extreme forms of racism and discrimination. It’s long past time that those of us who hold resources and influence help to share this burden, and this includes the environmental community.

At TEA, our commitment to more deeply embed an equity lens in our work, and build meaningful relationships with racialized communities, is an ongoing process. While I do not claim to have all the answers, I’d like to share some thoughts on what allyship can look like for us and other environmental organizations, and how we can contribute to catalyzing and supporting lasting change.

Use our platforms to express support and solidarity.

In the context of the ongoing violence and dehumanizing behaviour experienced by Black and Indigenous communities, staying silent is not an option. Many environmental organizations have public platforms that can and should be used to speak out against injustice and make statements of support and commitment. The intention is not to put environmental organizations at the centre of this discourse, but rather, to support and amplify the voices and messages of those who are at the forefront of the struggle for racial justice.

There can be no climate justice without racial justice.

Build connections to our work.

At TEA, we have a clear purpose – building a greener city for all – which is grounded in the belief that environmental issues impact all residents in our city, and that solutions must consider how to address inequity related to these environmental problems. This does not diminish our important environmental watchdog and policy-advocacy role. On the contrary, by including an equity lens in the in-depth environmental analysis TEA conducts, we aim to do a better job of preventing unintended harms and maximizing the positive benefits of the solutions we put forward.

The analogy that “we are in the same storm but on different boats” has been used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic, and similarly applies to the interconnected nature of climate, economic and racial justice. For example, in our city, there is growing income inequality between racialized and non-racialized populations, and significantly higher rates of poverty among racialized people, including children. Household income can determine where people live and their housing conditions, which in turn impacts how they experience environmental shocks such as extreme heat. Low-income households have very low consumption-based emissions but are made disproportionately vulnerable to climate-related risks.

For several years, accelerating equitable climate action in Toronto has been a core focus for TEA. We consistently advocate for housing retrofits as a climate solution that can reduce emissions, make residents’ housing more resilient in extreme weather, and create good, green job opportunities for equity-seeking people in the skilled trades. We also believe that retrofit programs require safeguards to protect tenants’ rights so that retrofits don’t lead to renovictions.

Illuminate systemic impacts. 

Environmental organizations have a responsibility to understand and situate their work in relation to other systemic issues. We have to recognize that many of the drivers of environmental harm are the same drivers that create systemic inequity and injustice. Data – both statistics and other information provided by communities – can reveal the deep connections between these issues and illuminate systemic solutions that can address harm to people and the planet.

Overlaying environmental data with geographical and race-based data can tell a powerful story. For example, a 2017 US study found that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (from transportation emissions) were 2.7 times higher in neighbourhoods with the highest proportion of racialized people than those with the lowest proportion. This type of work, which highlights the connection between pollution exposure and where racialized people live, can facilitate collaborative advocacy among environmental groups and community members.

Make space for excluded voices.

It’s a painful fact that our political institutions were born out of a colonial system that was designed to keep certain people silent and subordinate. This legacy remains with us today in overt ways – such as the Indian Act and the visible lack of diverse political representatives at all levels of government – and in more insidious ways when it comes to which voices hold influence in how government designs policy, implements programs and allocates resources.

Sadly, the environmental movement has also played a role in perpetuating this legacy. There are historic examples of conservationist beliefs conflated with eugenics, and contemporary examples of environmental campaigns that have chosen to completely disregard the implications for local populations including Indigenous communities. The voices of Indigenous people and other racialized people, who have demonstrated tireless leadership in defending land, water and air, have gone unrecognized, and at times, have been purposefully excluded or undermined.

Given where we’ve come from, and the injustice that continues today, we need to proactively work to build a different path forward. It is important for the environmental movement to recognize and support the work led by Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, which happens in spaces that are inside and outside of mainstream institutions. Environmental organizations can play a role in amplifying these voices in environmental policy and programs, and broader decision-making and resource allocation processes.

There are encouraging initiatives underway that seek to make space for racialized people in public policy and inside the institutions where decisions are taken. The action-research project led by Adapting Canadian Work & Workplaces (ACW) in collaboration with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities: An Environmental Justice Perspective, focuses on building Black and racialized leadership capacity to address environmental racism and influence public policy on climate. The Urban Alliance on Race Relations recently launched the Black Youth Fellowship, a professional and leadership development program focused on building the next generation of Black public servants, which will place participants in a Toronto Councillor’s office.

As a municipally-focused organization, TEA has intentionally built relationships with organizations who work with diverse communities across the city. We collaborate with these partners to engage more racialized people in civic processes to shape Toronto’s environmental policies and the City Budget. TEA also showcases and shares stories about the work of racialized people leading outstanding environmental work. We are committed to being vocal advocates for meaningful and transparent public participation and believe that our city will benefit from a greater diversity of voices calling for deeper and more equitable environmental action from government.

Face uncomfortable truths and be prepared for a long journey.

For all of us who are committed to sharing the burden of addressing past and present injustice in our society, it will be a long journey. During the first weekend of large-scale protests across the US, ignited by the killing of George Floyd by police, the hashtag #MeanwhileInCanada was trending on social media. Instead of using this moment to try to better understand the experiences of Black people on this side of the border, a significant number of people took to social media to paint an image of contrast between our ‘troubled’ neighbours to the south with our own ‘harmonious’ society.

In my view, a key role for allies is to help people and institutions face the uncomfortable truth that Black, Indigenous and other racialized people are continually treated as less equal and less valued members of our society. This is true here, in the US, and in many other parts of the world. We need to address the cognitive dissonance that can happen when people are confronted with a reality that does not match what they believe to be true – in this case about Canadian society – and use this moment to build greater understanding and empathy, not disassociation.

This brings me back to where I started. Those of us who hold resources and influence, organizationally or personally, need to be willing to have uncomfortable and challenging conversations with our peers, communities, co-workers, employees and supporters – and be willing to listen to racialized people who offer the gift of sharing their experiences with us. It is only through the willingness to linger in a place of discomfort that we can begin to fully understand and address injustice in our society, institutions and communities.

When I discussed writing this blog with my team, they urged me to share some of our challenges as an organization. One of the examples we discussed was how we respond internally to support the people on our team. TEA has a field canvass team, which, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, went door-to-door speaking with residents all over the city and raising critical funds for our work. At present, they do this work on the phone. Over the years, racialized workers on our team have had significantly different experiences than their non-racialized counterparts – whether it’s experiencing subtle mistrust or overtly racist behaviour while interacting with the public.

While TEA cannot control individuals’ behaviour towards our team, our organization can ensure that measures are in place that help workers feel supported when such incidents occur. In addition, equipping outreach workers with professional identification and providing supportive verification systems, which we started to do last year at the team’s request, can go a long way in mitigating certain types of harmful and hurtful interactions. Our team is encouraged to exit from situations where harmful views are expressed – whether it’s on the phone in person – since we do not want our workers to be subjected to discrimination nor do we want to recruit supporters with discriminatory views. We have had to face the reality that TEA’s outreach work takes place in a society where racism exists, and we must continually listen to staff and improve on how we support our team as they engage the public.

At TEA, we still have much to do to ensure that our work meaningfully supports the priorities of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities in Toronto. We are part of a growing movement that recognizes the interconnected nature of environmental, economic and racial justice work, which is why we are calling for green and just recovery for Toronto as we emerge from COVID-19. I am hopeful that we collectively can do the work needed to turn this important moment in history into an era where real change happens.

Several years ago, I was conducting a focus group discussion with a community group, and stories were shared by two elder members – one Black and one Jewish. They were commiserating about how there used to be parts of our city where they couldn’t go, and one recalled a sign that was posted in a public place that read “No Blacks or Jews allowed”. This was an important reminder to me about what has happened, in living memory, right here in Toronto. I sincerely hope that these elders will see a profound transformation in their lifetimes – a time when all people are safe, heard and valued.

Emmay Mah is the Executive Director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA).


Return to “Normal” (10)

What do we want “normal” to be when our society is stabilized after the pandemic has passed? How will we treat each other differently, ask just who our institutions serve, and how will we source and use “energy”?

The following “look forward” been composed by Emily Eaton.


The day after there will be a transition to a new normal. Economies that were fundamentally extractive, linear, and based on theft will be transformed. We will dislodge the power and interests that profit from the extraction and theft inherent in our pre-COVID carbon economies and rebuild ourselves based on reciprocity: caring for one another, both human and non-human.

This transition will be three-dimensional working towards decolonization, democratization and decarbonization.

1) Decolonization will not be understood as a metaphor. It will mean, quite literally, returning land, jurisdiction, and environmental decision-making to Indigenous Nations and communities. We will start with ‘crown lands’ and move on to consider how to return private property. We will manage the commons as if our children’s futures mattered.

2) Democratization will also require redistribution. We will wrestle our economies and our workplaces away from a small elite who are enriching themselves off of our labour and our environments. We will tax and redistribute their wealth, we will strengthen solidarity, cooperative, and socialized economies. We will recognize and value the labour of so many people who had been unpaid and poorly paid (women, undocumented workers, frontline service and care workers, racialized workers, and so on).

3) Decarbonization will be necessary to rescue a habitable world. Climate change is the next curve we will flatten. Supply chains, kin networks, and production will all become more local. Private sufficiency will be augmented by public luxury: fare-free, accessible public transit and low-carbon public amenities. Fossil fuel production will be phased out in a way that allows workers to stay in their communities and enjoy dignified lives.

The day after, when this transition begins, we will draw on the lessons we learned from caring for one another during the COVID-19 pandemic and we will recognize the need for a transformation in all three dimensions.

Emily Eaton is an associate professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Regina whose currently research focuses on the influence of the fossil fuels sector in Saskatchewan.


Return to “Normal” (7)

Is anyone still counting the number of days of “COVID Confinement”? Or, have you moved on to counting the number of weeks, or months?

With our attention currently focused on the pandemic, and systemic racism, the media and others seem to have forgotten that the Earth is concurrently in a climate crisis. Toronto author Tom Rand prefers to label this situation as a time of “climate disruption”[1].

Some aspects of our natural environment have improved while “the economy” has been operating in slow motion. Air quality has improved in many cities because people are driving and flying less; carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have not risen as much this year as in the past years; we hear the birds in the morning rather than traffic, and so on.

Many people are now looking forward to a “return to “normal”. Do you remember what “normal” was doing to the Earth’s environment?

  • A world of species extinction and hyper-consumerism

  • A world of an ever increasing disparity of wealth / equity / and racism

  • A world of the car culture and the combustion engine belching polluting gasses

  • A world of homelessness and lengthy lines at foodbanks


BUT, we don’t have to return to that “normal”. We can work together to make a better world on three levels: personal, community, and as a society. Now is the opportunity to make a difference because change is in the air, and many people don’t want to return to the “old normal”. As Dr. Kwame McKenzie said in his blog, “Normal was the problem.”[2]

What would the “New Normal” look like? Some examples, for our consideration, are:

  • A society that puts people – and inclusion – first, recognizing our inter-relatedness with all people, and all of creation

  • A society that does not pay $40 Billion in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industry

  • A society that retro-fits housing and other buildings to reduce their carbon footprint

  • A society that uses public street space for additional forms of transportation, such as buses, bicycles and pedestrians

  • A society with a progressive income tax system that includes meaningful taxes on wealth and the elimination of tax loopholes

As Gandhi said, “ Be the change you want to see in the world.”

My question is about how I make this “new normal” happen?

  • How do I want to live as a person of the Christian faith in the “New Normal” – both individually and as a part of my faith community?

  • How can I be effective in advocating for an economy that puts people before profit, and includes people of all cultures and skin colours?

  • How will I live with respect for other people, and the Earth, in the “New Normal”?

  • How will I seek justice for the Earth and its people, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Creator?

“The next few months are precious. Things have changed quickly.

We can imagine the “New Normal”. Naomi Klein

[1]Tom Rand, The Case for Climate Capitalism, ECW Press, 2020


Return to “Normal” (6)

 Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Day After: Animals

The Day After: Animals marks the first installment in an ongoing curated series from Canadian Dimension that asks contributors to imagine the perils and possibilities that will ground our collective response to or emergence from the COVID-19 crisis.

Canadian Dimension will ask Canada’s leading scholars to respond to questions of human-environment relations to consider our post-COVID future:

  • What opportunities make you hopeful and what risks do you see at the human-nature interface?

  • How can we build an ethic of care for socioecological systems?

For the first in this series that contemplates a new “normal”, go to:

A Return to “Normal”? (2)

Rejecting the death instinct in a pandemic age:

by Matthew Behrens, April 21, 2020

Image: Amanda Slater/Flickr

Matthew Behrens has shared his thoughts on what we choose to happen as we “return to normal” after COVID-19. He begins by writing that:

“The ongoing pandemic epoch has exposed a clear duality marked both by increasingly obvious and blatant inequalities, hypocrisies and systemic failures as well as beautiful, loving and creative responses in the form of mutual aid communities and direct action to save lives.

What happens when — or if — this epoch comes to an end is anybody’s guess, but there are clearly two paths forward, with a thankfully growing consciousness developed long before COVID-19 that our present path is one leading directly to disaster. Indeed, the 24-hour news cycle dominated by masked faces, hospital images and infection charts has almost obliterated from memory everything from January’s apocalyptic Australian brush fire scenes that served as yet one more warning about planetary peril to the grotesque armed invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory by paramilitary RCMP units.”


Which path will we, individually and as a society, choose to follow? The whole of Matthew’s article can be found at:




A Return to “Normal”?


Photo: Allan Baker – Lake Ontario beach at Morningside Creek

Do we really want to return to “normal” as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides? Is a return to “normal” in the best interest of humanity, or Planet Earth?

Yes, there’s plenty about this time of COVID confinement that I do not enjoy, and in my heart I wish that “social distancing” were over with, for example. However, what was “normal” before this time? Was it all-good? What would we have changed about life to make it richer and more meaning-full for ourselves and people in our communities?

Thanks to Prof. Dennis Bartels, I have set up a small chart of SOME of the differences that we are currently (April 2020) experiencing:

Before COVID -19                                             During COVID-19

Concern for gov’t DEBT                              No limits on gov’t spending

Opposition to carbon tax                           Environmental issues fade

Housing the homeless is an                      People without homes are being housed in hotels,

Intractable problem, cannot                    new shelters set up.

be solved, just tolerated                           Concern that “they” may infect “the rest of us”

Underfunding of daycare                         Gov’t establishes FREE daycare

                                                                          for children of “Essential” folks

As André Picard, the health reporter for Toronto’s Globe & Mail says: The big unknown question is, are we going to learn lessons from this? Or are we just going to go back to what we did before? ….I think there’s some real opportunities here to do things differently. I hope the bright side of this is that we really do take advantage of this crisis to do bold things and not just go back to the safe, not very effective way of doing health and social services.”

 What we are seeing during this pandemic are acts of kindness, and love for other people who are all part of our human family.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Bill McKibben, who wrote this in the May, 2020 edition of Sojourners Magazine: The day will come when we can easily return to church, to the store, to the hairdresser – for that we will be able to thank the scientists, and the brave doctors and nurses, who did what they had to do during this emergency. But their courage will have been wasted if nothing deeper changes in how we treat one another and the planet.”

Let’s not “waste” this opportunity.

Earth Day, 2020


Celebrating 50 years of a vision.


Posted April 22, 2020 by allanbaker in Environment

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What Really Matters These Days ?

David Suzuki asks:

When you pause to reflect on what’s truly essential and meaningful for you to thrive, what comes to mind?

One possible response comes from Bill Mckibbin. In Sojourner’s Magazine ( Bill wrote:

“The day will come when we can easily return to church, to the store, to the hairdresser – for that we will be able to thank the scientists, and the brave doctors and nurses, who did what they have to do during this emergency. But their courage will have been wasted if nothing deeper changes in how we treat one another and the planet.”


Suzuki’s thoughtful column concludes with this statement:

“Now, many politicians are ascribing war language to the pandemic response. But what will we do when this “war” is over? Will we allow an old equation to continue to guide us, or could we choose to come together to define a new purpose?”

To read the whole column go to:

Posted April 17, 2020 by allanbaker in Canadian society, Environment, Spirituality

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