A Review of 2021
Photos: Y Hanson Photography
2021 in B.C. was bookended by the deadliest and most expensive “natural” disasters in Canadian history, against a backdrop of a murderous poisoned drug supply and successively worse waves of a pandemic which has revealed the true extent of the rot of decades of neoliberal inequality and underinvestment in our public services.
As the year dragged on, more and more of the politicians who branded themselves and won elections as “progressives” revealed themselves to be little more than craven personifications of Capital, defenders of and shills for an unjust and rigged system.
The Seinfeld of federal elections
Speaking of which, Justin Trudeau won re-election in the Seinfeld of federal elections - a campaign about nothing, in which very little changed at the national level. At the local level, some impressive candidates emerged and stood out from the crowd. In Vancouver Granville, Anjali Appadurai ran a bold campaign and didn’t shy away from criticizing the B.C. NDP government’s deployment of RCMP violence against land defenders. Appadurai came within a few hundred votes of defeating the Liberals’ Taleeb Noormohamed, whose serial real estate flipping made him an embarrassment even to Trudeau and who has since been consigned to the backbenches of Ottawa.
The Mayor’s right turn
Locally, Mayor Kennedy Stewart continued to energetically email everyone in Vancouver about his prematurely launched re-election campaign. Having secured an early endorsement from the Vancouver & District Labour Council and believing his left flank to be secure, while facing at least three or four well-funded right-of-centre mayoral candidates as opponents, Stewart has seemingly been working overtime to alienate his progressive base of voters. In the summer, he was AWOL during the Heat Dome, and then a couple of months later voted against a key plank in his own climate emergency plan. Stewart then enthusiastically advocated for the real estate department’s plan to redevelop False Creek South, before backing down in the face of major community opposition as council voted unanimously to refer the future of False Creek South to the planning department. Finally, Stewart capped off the year by supporting a significant boost to the VPD’s Budget. Watch for the mayor to turn his gaze back to his left on the campaign trail next year; the question is whether anyone will believe him and whether other challengers will emerge.
Of the progressive municipal parties, OneCity appears to be the most organized and ambitious for 2022: the party has already had a dozen candidates announce they are seeking nominations for city council, school and park board nominations.
We all learned new weather terms in 2021: A glossary of the year of climate disaster
B.C. was impacted by one extreme weather event after another in 2021, demonstrating how climate change can turn the normal extremes of Canadian weather into dangerous and destructive events.
Weather Bomb - When there are pressure drops of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours, we experience a Weather Bomb which happened over the course of two days in November bringing heavy rain, powerful wind gusts and copious snowfall in the mountain passes.
Heat Dome - A strong ridge of high pressure trapped hot air beneath it for ten days in June in BC during which, as noted by Environment Canada, “Power grids failed, asphalt melted, highways buckled, and fruit baked on vines and trees.” At least 595 people died as a result of heat-related complications.
Death Valley Moment - On the fourth day of the Heat Dome what Environment Canada called a “Death Valley moment” in Lytton, set the all-time Canadian heat record for three consecutive days — topping out at 49.6 C — before burning to the ground in a deadly wildfire on the fourth day. In fact, as Bill McKibben notes in his harrowing summary of 2021 in the New Yorker, that record-setting day in Lytton exceeded any temperature ever recorded in Florida and all of South America.
Atmospheric River - Floods and mudslides followed as an atmospheric river dumped 100-200 millimetres of rainfall onto the Fraser Valley in November. Highways connecting Vancouver to the rest of the province were closed due to washouts and landslides, isolating the city from the rest of Canada, at least by road, with significant human and economic impacts.
Bomb Cyclone - A powerful and record-setting low-pressure system brought destructive winds, major swells, extreme rainfall, mudslides and flooding along the North American West Coast in October. Tornado-like funnels were seen off the shore from YVR International Airport, and later touched ground near UBC Golf Course on Musqueam lands, uprooting trees and crushing cars.
And, in 2021, we became reacquainted with another term: Wildfire. B.C. saw almost 60 times more forest burned this year than in 2020 and the third most area burned ever, resulting in 50,000 evacuations and a province-wide state of emergency. The smoke spread to Alberta, where Calgary recorded 512 hours of smoke and haze — more than 40 times the average.
Looking for the light: Some good news from 2021
“Good news is rare these days, and every glittering ounce of it should be cherished and hoarded and worshipped and fondled like a priceless diamond.” - Hunter S. Thompson
The triumphant, decisive electoral victory of former student leader Gabriel Boric in Chile shows that even in the most difficult of times, the left can win significant victories. Boric’s defeat of the far right was the fruit of years of social movement struggle in Chile, where the 35-year-old president hopes that 2022 will see the ratification of a new, progressive constitution that finally does away with the legacies of the Pinochet dictatorship.
Here are some other positive developments in various fields from 2021.
Workers took their lives back. Spring and summer 2021 saw a wave of resignations as the pandemic gave people a chance to rethink their work-life balance. Workers are drafting up resignation emails, handing in their notices and heading for the exit door in droves. As the economy reopens demand for talent is fast outstripping supply – it’s now an employee’s market. Read more on WIRED.
Meatpacking workers at the centre of Canada’s industry win big. This week Jacobin reported on a significant labour victory in Alberta: “The meatpacking company Cargill didn’t lift a finger when a massive COVID outbreak left half its workers in High River, Alberta, ill. The business’s unwillingness to take employees’ health seriously motivated workers to fight for — and win — a new contract.” Read more: https://jacobinmag.com/2021/12/cargill-high-river-covid-deaths-ufcw-strike/
Uber Drivers Were Granted Workers Rights in the UK
Basic income goes mainstream with trials planned for Wales, South Korea, and some cities in the US while Ireland announces a basic income for artists.
IN THE OCEANS
Canada develops a satellite-based Dark Vessel Detection program to identify unreported and unregulated vessels illegally catching billions of fish and contributing to decline of fish stocks and habitat destruction around the world.
Ocean Cleanup System 002 successfully movies 20,000 pounds of trash from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Dutch Inventor Boyan Slat predicts cleanup completion by 2040.
Ecuador President expands protected area around Galapagos Islands by 60 thousand square Kilometers.
Great Barrier Reef Recovers with a massive annual spawning
500,000 Square Kilometre Marine Reserve planned for the South Pacific
ON THE LAND
Agrivoltaic Bumper Crops grow successfully under specially designed solar panel arrays and increase energy generation at the same time.
Solar farms are being built on top of closed landfill sites turning brownfields into green fields. https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/solar-energy-farms-built-on-landfills/
Nearly 59m hectares of forest have regrown globally including Brazil where the Atlantic Forest was found to have expanded, Mongolia’s boreal forests were found to have expanded by 1.2m hectares and forests in Canada and parts of central Africa have also expanded. Globally, however, forests continue to shrink. https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/87fa5cbe59f2460e9702a590314cdc0e
JUST LOOK UP
The ozone layer is healing. The hole in the ozone layer remains enormous – about the size of North America – but it is recovering at a rate of one to three percent every 10 years, according to the UN.
Free Transit movement makes inroads. Transit is once again free tonight for New Year’s Eve in Metro Vancouver, and a growing movement locally and worldwide wants to make this public service gratis all year round. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/fare-free-public-transit-ottawa-1.6279951
Researchers pull carbon out of the sky converting it to instant jet fuel leading to hopes for a future onboard system for carbon-neutral flight.
United Airlines flew its first passenger aircraft with 100-Percent sustainable fuel made from sugar water and corn which they claim burns 75% cleaner than petroleum-based fuels.
Hybrid Air Vehicles Unveiled plans for 100-seater short-haul airship blimps promising a zero-emissions all-electric fleet by 2030.
Electric vehicles outsold diesel in Europe thanks to lower up-front prices and more public charging infrastructure
Europe’s forgotten 'Night Train' sleeper services are being revived as travellers seek sustainable transport options.
THE HARDER THEY FALL
Following the right-wing insurrection against the U.S. Capitol on January 6, Donald Trump was indeed forced to vacate the Oval Office in accordance with his electoral defeat. To date Trump has avoided prosecution for his anti-democratic incitement, although he was banned from Twitter. The QAnon conspiracy factory declined after Capitol riots in the US - hashtags have evaporated, 70,000 accounts were shut down by Twitter, and documentaries and publications have helped to expose Q for what it is.
TAX THE RICH
The world agreed to tax its richest corporations. The UK, France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Canada and the US reached a “historic” deal in June to make multinationals pay more tax. Then in October, leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies (G20) agreed to endorse a global minimum corporate tax of 15% with a view to have the rules in force in 2023. This represents a tiny, baby step in the right direction. In Canada, the federal Liberals ignored opposition calls for even a ridiculously moderate Wealth Tax.
International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed another record year of growth with roughly 290 GW of renewable energy generation installed globally.
44 nations committed to ending the use of coal and the G7 vowed not to fund. (British Columbia continues to export thermal coal extracted in the U.S.)
OIL & GAS
The last country on Earth using leaded gasoline just finished its supply. Leaded gas now banned everywhere. https://qz.com/africa/2053227/leaded-gasoline-is-now-banned-everywhere-on-earth/
Endowments, portfolios and pension funds worth just shy of $40 trillion have now committed to full or partial abstinence from coal, gas and oil stocks.
Fossil fuel projects axed in 2021 including: President Biden pulled the plug on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline; Drax axed what would have been the largest gas power plant in Europe; Shell abandoned plans to exploit Cambo oil field in Scotland; China pledged to stop funding overseas coal projects; and Portugal became the latest European country to quit coal.
Alternatives to incarceration as an answer to crime. Prison population declined in the US and Dutch jails are now closing down and being turned into schools, refugee centres and hotels as a result of investment in youth intervention schemes, electronic tagging, and residential care for offenders with addictions and mental health problems.
Social progress is advancing across the world The latest Social Progress Index charted the progress of 167 nations, assessing them on things like rights, access to education, quality of healthcare, personal safety and quality of environment an revealed that 147 nations recorded a better score in 2021 than they did a decade ago (although not by much) while only four countries (the US, Brazil, Syria and South Sudan) regressed.
BrainGate successfully connected a human mind, wirelessly, to a computer. With exciting possibilities for people struggling with paralysis, limb loss and neurologic diseases.
While big pharmaceutical companies have refused to surrender their profits gained from intellectual property regimes, leading to what some have termed vaccine apartheid, the global Pandemic has brought global cooperation in vaccine research, financing and distribution which resulted in the development of a Covid-19 vaccine in an unprecedented timeline of under one year. The subsequent exploration of the mRNA vaccine technology has led to a malaria vaccine and researchers are exploring the possibility of vaccines against cancer as well as other illnesses.
Big pharma companies aren’t the only ones to develop vaccines. This year Cuba developed and deployed two homegrown vaccines, a remarkable achievement given the stifling U.S. blockade the country continues to face. Just as remarkably, despite a late start Cuba now has among the highest rates of vaccination in the world - and they’re making plans to share millions of doses of their vaccine with other countries.
Photo: Y Hanson Photography
These are difficult times, in B.C. and worldwide. More than ever, the world needs the banners of the left to be held high - and for that to be possible we need our own media and sources of information and public education. We see this modest effort of ours as part of a worldwide movement and a long, proud tradition.
We hope this e-newsletter will continue to inform and inspire you in 2022. We plan to expand with standalone articles in 2022, but it will only be possible with your participation and support.
As the Zapatistas taught the world on Jan. 1, 1994, everything can change on a New Year’s Day. Here’s wishing you and yours a happy New Year.