Satellites make good neighbours

A lot of fuss is being made of the Apollo 11 landing of a man on the moon one-half century ago but not so much about Canada’s launch of the Alouette 1 at the same time. Canada was a leader in space -the third in the world to launch a satellite.

Alouette 1. Image: National Post

And Canada was the first to launch a satellite in 1972 that would allow television broadcasts to be broadcast from coast-to-coast-to coast: the Anik A1.

Anik A1 personally affected me. As a microwave technician, I worked on microwave stations that used to be to only way to get signals across Canada. Now the microwave system had been made redundant by the Anik A1.

As more countries launched satellites, their use expanded beyond communication to rescue. This capability is especially important for countries in the Arctic Circle like Canada where populations are sparse and the environment harsh.

Canada, France, the U.S. and Soviet Union cooperated to pool the resources of dozens of satellites. The first rescue took place in 1982 in northern B.C. just weeks after the Soviet Union launched COSPAS-1.

With the belligerence of the current U.S. administration, it’s hard to imagine that they could cooperate on anything.  But the original agreement, forged when tensions with the USSR were high, is still in force. Michael Byers, Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at UBC, says:

“Yet, satellites-based search and rescue exists only because of a remarkable exercise in Cold-War co-operation (Globe and Mail, July 27, 2019).”

After the Cold War ended, co-operation continued with joint military exercises between Arctic countries. One, called Vigilant Eagle, had U.S., Russian, and Canadian jets responding to a mock hijacking of a commercial aircraft.

After a South Korean fishing trawler sank on the Russian side of the Bering Sea in 2014, Russia requested help from the U.S. Coast guard which sent help immediately.

Russia has been a major contributor to the International Space Station and last month, Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques returned from the station in a Russian Soyuz capsule.

Despite tensions with China, the Chinese tech giant Huawei is working in partnership with Canadian internet providers to launch satellites to improve connectivity in Canada’s north. Without the new satellites, two million Canadians in Arctic communities don’t have reliable high-speed internet.

Unlike the old technology, the new satellites will be placed in a much lower orbit. Traditional satellites have two problems. One is the low bandwidth because of the curvature of the Earth. The other is “latency,” that’s the delay in getting signals to and from the satellite. You may have noticed it in TV broadcasts where the foreign correspondent stands in silence after being asked a question –they are waiting for signals to bounce around the globe.

The Trudeau government recently announced that it is investing $85 million to build a Low Earth Orbit constellation of 120 satellites in Canada’s north. At only 1,000 kilometres above the ground, latency is not a problem and since the satellites can be networked, bandwidth is as good as optical fibre.

It’s a good investment, not only because it connects Canada’s rapidly warming North with the rest of the country but because the sale of high-speed internet service a lucrative business.

Canada goes nuclear

Canada is third in the world in replacing fossil fuels with nuclear. France and Sweden have replaced almost all of their fossil-fuelled generated electricity with nuclear power. Now France generates only six per cent of electricity with fossil fuels and Sweden only one per cent.

Darlington Nuclear Plant, Ontario

Canada comes behind France and Sweden in replacing fossil fuels. Now fossil fuels generate 19 per cent of our electricity. Canada has an advantage with hydroelectricity: hydro generates 59 per cent of our total.  Nuclear generates 15 per cent and wind/solar generate 7 per cent.

Ontario is mainly responsible for Canada’s third place position. In 2003, the Ontario government started phasing out coal-fired generators. At the time, coal generated one-quarter of the province’s electricity. By 2014, coal was gone. Now 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear plants, not far behind France at 77 per cent (Globe and Mail, June 21, 2019).

Other countries aren’t even close to top three. In the United States, 67 per cent of electricity comes from fossil fuels. In Germany, despite massive subsidies for wind and solar, 55 per cent of their electricity comes from fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy is the most dangerous source of electricity in the world, except for the alternative. Nuclear meltdowns are spectacular but deaths are much fewer than those from fossil fuels.

The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in 1986 killed 50 first responders and will likely kill 25,000 from cancer resulting from radiation. There were no direct deaths from radiation when a tsunami hit the Fukushima Nuclear station in 2011 but radiation from the plant is expected to generate 180 cases of cancer. Fukushima was second largest nuclear disaster in history, after Chernobyl.

The burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal, causes 7.3 million premature deaths annually according to the World Health Organization. Not all of those deaths are from the production of electricity but coal generates 41 per cent of the world’s electricity. Extrapolating those numbers means that coal sourced electricity kills 3 million people annually.

The burning of fossil fuels is the greatest threat to humanity. Our very existence in some parts of the planet is at risk due to climate change.

Misconceptions over nuclear energy abound. One in three Canadians think nuclear power plants emit as much carbon dioxide as burning oil. Almost three in 10 think it emits more. Nuclear energy plants emit no carbon dioxide.

You hear about the nuclear plants that blow up or melt down but not much about the about 450 now in operation, most in the U.S., with 60 more reactors under construction worldwide.

Nuclear plants have their problems. They are expensive to build and disposal of spent radioactive fuel is controversial.

Nuclear power is a taboo topic in politics. I can guarantee that you won’t hear any of the leaders of Canada’s three main political parties even mention the word nuclear prior to the upcoming federal election.

Environmentalists despise nuclear energy as being too risky. Some unions support it, such as the Power Workers Union who placed full-page ads in the Globe and Mail praising nuclear power. Most Canadians, I suspect, would rather not think about it.

U.S challenges Canada’s Northwest Passage

President Trump plans to send ships into our Northwest Passage without Canada’s permission. Why he would want to provoke Canada -America’s closest ally and trading partner- is a mystery. If he succeeds, not only will he strain relations with Canada further but invite unintended consequences: If the Northwest Passage is international water as he claims, the same waterway is open to his perceived enemies as well.

image: Foreign Policy News

Despite our differing opinions regarding the Northwest Passage, the U.S. and Canada came to an amicable solution in the past. The Americans maintain that the Northwest Passage is an international strait and while Canada argues it is internal waters. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney agreed to disagree: the U.S. would ask Canada’s permission to send ships through the Northwest Passage and Canada would automatically agree. In this simple agreement between friends, neither concedes their position.

That friendship has been strained lately on a number of fronts by an egotistic U.S. president. He is preparing for a “freedom of navigation operation” through the Northwest Passage without asking us.

Belligerence is a defining characteristic of Trump. Professor Robert Huebert of the University of Calgary has a blunt assessment:

“However, due to Mr. Trump’s pathological need to win, the Americans are set to disregard this [1988] solution and win the dispute (Globe and Mail, May 20, 2019).”

What Trump fails to realize is that if the U.S. gets its way and declares the Northwest Passage to be international waters, it also invites Russia and China into the Arctic. What’s good for one is good for all.

“Given that Russia is actively militarizing and China may soon be taking similar action, the United States’ move to attack Canada, its most important ally, while meeting this threat makes no sense. If the Americans are really concerned about the rise of Russian military strength in the Arctic, they need Canada to help meet the threat,” says Professor Huebert.

President Trump seems unaware of how much the U.S. relies on cooperation with Canada in the defense of North America. Bilateral defense agreements go back to 1940. Established in 1958, NORAD provides warning of threats by air or sea. Traditionally, the Deputy Commander of NORAD has been a senior Canadian Armed Forces officer. In 2008, a joint agreement provided for the military from one nation to aid the other during an emergency such as a natural disaster.

If the U.S. wants to counter the Russian threat to the Arctic, they will need Canada’s cooperation.

Meanwhile, it’s in Canada’s best interests to cooperate with China in the Arctic; even when cooperation is not mutual. Despite China’s single-minded determination to punish Canada for arresting a Huawei executive in Vancouver, Canada is siding with China over the U.S. in China’s goal to expand its influence in the Arctic.

Former parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs, Andrew Leslie, said in China:

“Let’s focus on the positive that comes through international co-operation, and not so much on the sabre-rattling.”

At least China isn’t planning an invasion of Canada.

If Trump sends ships to our Northwest Passage and they fail to navigate the ice-clogged and uncharted waters, it will support Canada’s position that these waters are unique and are not a functioning international strait.

 

Recycling is broken

It seemed like a good idea at the time -throw away stuff guilt-free because others can use it. Now it looks more like wishful thinking.

image: Laura Lezza/Getty Images

Manufacturers encouraged the scheme because they wouldn’t have to deal with the mess caused by excess packaging. We, the conscientious consumers would be left to handle the flood of plastic, glass, tins and cardboard.

We rose to the challenge, earnestly sorting our trash. If each of us would just recycle, we could lick this problem. In doing so, we let manufacturers off the hook. It’s a familiar shift of responsibility to consumers. If each of us drive smaller cars and turn off the lights we can reduce global warming.

The failure of the recycling program is becoming painfully evident. Canada is faced with lecturing from thuggish Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, who is threatening war on Canada if we don’t take back tonnes of Canadian trash that have been rotting in a port near Manila.

It’s a national embarrassment. More than 100 shipping containers were sent from Canada to Manila six years ago. They were labelled plastics but they turned out to be garden-variety, stinking Canadian garbage including soiled adult diapers. Canada is in violation of international treaties that prohibit exportation of mislabelled containers.

More and more majority world countries are turning their noses up at our trash. China doesn’t want it either. In 2017, China announced that didn’t want any “foreign garbage.” Without China as a dumping ground, stuff is piling up around the world with nowhere to go except monstrous ocean gyres, landfills, and incinerators.

China correctly notes that there is no “globally recognized standard for scrap materials and recyclable materials.” It turns out that what’s one person’s trash is another person’s trash.

But we do a better job in British Columbia, right? The director of Recycle B.C., Alan Langdon, thinks so. He says that China’s prohibition will have little impact on B.C.’s operations. “We’ve actually been processing all our plastics here in B.C. for the last three-and-a-half years, therefore no real impact,” said Langdon, “The paper and cardboard that we are sending over, we right now have the cleanest material in North America, so we’re still able to meet standards and have it accepted by China.”

It sounds encouraging until you realize that for ten years Vancouver sent as much as 500,000 tonnes of garbage a year to Cache Creek. For the last two years, Vancouver sent 150,000 tonnes of municipal garbage to landfills in Washington and Oregon. In addition, 260,000 tonnes of garbage were burned annually.

We can’t claim to be trash virtuous in Kamloops. We risked being kicked out of the Recycle BC program last year because of the contaminates we put into our recycling containers. Last year, city inspectors found banned items in our bins at twice the provincial rate. Banned products included glass, soft plastics and food. The provincial rate is 10.8 per cent.

There is a way of reducing the amount of materials ending up in our trash. It’s called “polluter pays.” It works like this: tax manufacturers who insist on making unnecessary packaging, and use the money to help deal with the mess.

 

China’s low-tech threat to our elections

China doesn’t need the sneaky influence of social media to influence the outcome of our federal election when the brute force of trade sanctions work.

image: The Globe and Mail

Not to say that social media aren’t a concern. Federal Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, worries about the influence of digital platforms and their inability to protect the “digital public square.”

J. Michael Cole is more familiar with China’s trade sanctions:

“And in Taiwan, where I have lived for the past 13 years, I have witnessed first-hand Beijing’s repeated use of financial sticks-and-carrots and how that approach is used to affect electoral outcomes (Globe and Mail, April 1, 2019),” said the former analyst with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Here’s an example of how China’s strong-arm tactics work: After the dispute between Philippines and China over territory in the South China Sea in 2012, Beijing cancelled orders of bananas and restricted Chinese tourism to the Philippines. After Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte capitulated, Beijing lifted tourism restrictions and resumed orders of commercial crops.

Canada’s feds are under pressure after China restricted the importation of our canola. Farmers blame Prime Minister Trudeau for not moving quickly enough to prevent “the biggest disaster” in living memory. Growers across the Prairies commonly devote half their acreage to Canola and sell 40 per cent of it to China.

Complaints from growers sound a lot like Western alienation.

“One thing I’m hearing more of is extreme disappointment with our government,” said Brett Halstead, a farmer in Nokomis, Sask. “It doesn’t look or feel like they’re taking it seriously … It feels like, ‘it’s only the west, it doesn’t matter.’”

China pretends that blockage of our canola is justified and has nothing to do with Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou. They claim to have found contaminants in our canola.

What an odd coincidence that China has just now found contaminants after years of importation of our canola.

What would canola growers have Canada do? Arrest Chinese citizens in Canada and torture them as China has done with two Canadians living in China?  Build a canola pipeline to tidewater?

There is one easy solution -it would compromise our values but work. Canada could release Meng Wanzhou. However, not with this government, it seems.

That’s where the political interference comes in. If some opposition politician running in the federal election were to promise the release of the Huawei CFO, it could gain a lot of support from Western voters; many who already feel abandoned over lack of progress in building an oil pipeline.

It’s not just disenfranchised oil workers and canola growers who can be recruited to serve China’s will; there are thousands of Chinese-Canadians who use the app WeChat. The social media and messaging app has one billion Chinese-speaking users around the world, and has a reputation for spreading China’s propaganda.

WeChat was used by Liberal candidate Karen Wang to some effect in her efforts to mobilize Chinese-Canadians in her campaign against NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in Burnaby South.

Holding Meng Wanzhou in the face China’s bullying will take some courage. The posturing of opposition politicians in the coming months before the federal election will be revealing.

How Russia could determine our next prime minister

Did you hear about the Canadian commandos who slipped into the Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine in 2016? The commandos were targeting the new Republic which, with the help of Russia, was seeking independence. It was a surgical strike to incapacitate the breakaway region.

image: Unian

While it was widely circulated on social media, it’s not true. An English translation of the story was shared over 3,000 times on Facebook alone. A similar story blew up on pro-Russia websites this last May. The new iteration, which spread even more widely, suggested that three Canadian soldiers were killed after their car hit a land mine while they were being escorted by the Ukrainian military (Walrus magazine, December, 2018).

It’s part of Russia’s disinformation campaign to discredit the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and sow general discontent and division -a sophisticated drive in which lies are mixed with truth.

It works. Russia’s Internet Research Agency managed to affect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. election. It microtargeted Facebook ads to stir up conflict in an appeal to patriotism, honour, inequality, race, nationality, and LGBTQ+ rights.

Russia’s propaganda is not dogmatic; it’s an attempt to destabilize Western governments. Moscow is in for the long game –discontent leading to civil unrest and the disintegration of democracies. It’s Putin’s revenge for the collapse of the USSR and economic sanctions against Russia from Western nations including Canada.

The Internet Research Agency is always looking for wedge issues and none is more volatile than immigration. The UN Compact on Migration has recently become a focal point with Prime Minister Trudeau supporting it and Opposition leader Andrew Scheer against it.

Scheer recently rose in the House of Commons recently and stated that signing the compact would mean that “foreign entities” would be able to dictate Canadian immigration policies.

While Scheer’s comments are not true, it does play into Russia’s disinformation campaign. The pact’s preamble states explicitly that it “reaffirms the sovereign right of states to determine their national migration policy,” meaning governments will not sign away their rights to design their migration policies by signing onto the pact. Former Conservative immigration minister Chris Alexander has called Scheer’s comments “factually incorrect.”

Scheer is nervously looking over his shoulder at Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada and worries about them stealing right-wing votes.

Inspired by the “Yellow Vest” protests in France and fueled by Social media, demonstrations have spread across Canada. In Calgary one protester yelled through a megaphone: “They hate our country and they hate our way of life,” to cheers and whistles, not specifying who “they” are.

Professor Fenwick McKelvey at Concordia University has studied social-media manipulation. He believes there are plenty of other domestic pressure points Russian bots could exploit. “You’ve got language, Indigenous issues,” he says.

When you see how effective Russian was in the 2016 U.S. election, it’s not a stretch to think to see how Bernier could ride a wave of political instability. Immigration fears, Alberta’s anger on one side of pipelines and Indigenous conflict on the other, Right-wing governments in Quebec and Ontario -all provide fertile ground.

McKelvey says Canada is vulnerable to this kind of exploitation, if it isn’t happening already. If the thought of Prime Minister Bernier seems improbable, so did President Trump.

Ditch the stoner image of cannabis users

Now that cannabis is legal in Canada a more accurate picture of users is emerging. Cannabis users are coming out into the daylight and they don’t look like what’s depicted in the movies.

image: GFarma.news

The Hollywood portrayal of marijuana users usually involves a bumbling buffoon who sits on a couch, smokes weed and binge watches TV. He can barely remember where he left his car keys, much less hold down a job or do well in school.

In Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Jeff Spicoli is a carefree stoner and surfer with little regard for school. In Cheech & Chong’s movies like Up in Smoke, a couple of stoners take meandering road trips in smoke-filled van.

The stigma of cannabis use is historical. “Marijuana” was first used as a pejorative term to describe what U.S. blacks and Mexican used in the 1930s. Leafly.ca says:

“The Great Depression had just hit the United States, and Americans were searching for someone to blame. Due to the influx of immigrants and the rise of suggestive jazz music, many white Americans began to treat cannabis (and, arguably, the Blacks and Mexican immigrants who consumed it) as a foreign substance used to corrupt the minds and bodies of low-class individuals.”

With such an image of degenerate and low-life users, cannabis consumers have been reluctant to admit use even after legalization. Some still feel like they have to be secretive about it. A friend emailed me:

“However, nothing has changed for me, somehow I still feel like I have to hide in my back yard if I want to smoke a joint…..how weird is that!!!!”

That reluctance is reflected in surveys. Health Canada’s Canadian Cannabis Survey asked respondents about their willingness to disclose use. Even once cannabis is legal, 25 per cent said that they would not disclose that they use it. While not a majority, it reflects reluctance to be judged by the stereotypical image of befuddled fools.

That connection is also reflected when respondents were asked about social acceptability of cannabis use. Less than half, 45 per cent, said that recreational use was socially acceptable.

Another study by Starbuds Canada done before legalization found that 27 percent of Canadians, or about 10 million people, currently consume cannabis. Another 17 percent said they would consider using it.

The largest growing demographic of users and those curious about using, are older, more affluent consumers. While Canadians over the age of 65 use the least, they are the most interested in trying it.

The majority of users have higher education degrees, including 43 percent university and 32 percent college. Most users are under the age of 54 and one-third of them have children.

Dave Martyn, president of Starbuds Canada says:

“With cannabis going mainstream, the ’stoner’ stereotype is dying. Cannabis isn’t just for intoxication, people are using it to relax, unwind, like they would a glass of wine at the end of the day. The average cannabis consumer is more likely to resemble your neighbour than any portrayal in pop culture.”