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2018: A year of living dangerously | 2018

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I was born and raised on three calendars: the Iranian, the Islamic, and the Gregorian. It may sound confusing, but it is actually quite an intriguing exercise which sculpts a contrapuntal disposition into one’s character. Those of us who’ve gone through such an interstellar experience have the luxury of celebrating birthdays on three different days and sometimes during two different seasons!      

The Iranian calendar is solar and every time we say the names of its months and seasons, they sounded like we are reciting an ancient hymn: Farvardin, Ordibehesht, Khordad… and then Bahar, Tabestan, Pa’iz, Zemestan. Pure poetry. The Islamic calendar is lunar and its logic introduces a sacred rhetoric into the rhythm of our lives. Moharram we hope for in fear and ecstasy, Ramadan is fun and curious. The Gregorian calendar meanwhile casts a colonial shadow onto our lives. We are effectively ruled by it and have no reason to trust its bizarre circulations.      

When I moved to the United States, two other calendars were added to these three: the Chinese and the Jewish. These two calendars hardly mattered inside Iran except for the deeply learned and/or mystical. In the US they became aspects of my life first in Philadelphia, where I went to graduate school, and then eventually in New York, where I work.        

Put together, the Iranian, the Islamic, the Jewish, and the Chinese calendars came together and offered me a haven away from the tyranny of the imperial Gregorian calendar. 

I remember when the whole Y2K song-and-dance threatened the end of the world and the coming of apocalypse in the year 2000 on the Christian calendar, I told a reporter this was calendar imperialism and meant nothing to those equally happy within an Iranian, a Jewish, a Chinese, or an Islamic calendar. The reporter thought I was being mystical.

The widening gyre

The avalanche of events in 2018 on the Gregorian calendar makes it impossible to pause for a moment and wonder what has happened to us over the past year. But pause we must.

This year, the more obnoxiousness the world leaders displayed, the more attention they demanded. The drama king of the news was of course Donald Trump, followed by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Narendra Modi; Benjamin Netanyahu and his favourite Arab Prince Mohammad bin Salman were not too far behind. 

First and foremost in this year of living dangerously were the environmental calamities which capitalist greed and unbridled abuse of our planet have caused. Dire warnings about climate change kept coming at us this past year – including an inferno in Paradise, California and a flood of biblical proportions in Japan.

Scientists have been concerned for decades that the increasing level of green-house gases is simply untenable and yet Trump remains stubbornly thickheaded. His reaction to the National Climate Assessment Report was dumbfounding: “I don’t believe it,” he said.

Then came the continuing deadly conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. In Yemen, the horrid murderous campaign of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman continues under the patronage of his US, EU, Arab and Israeli allies.

“Some 132 million people in 42 countries will need assistance next year,” the UN says, with Yemen topping the list, along with Syria, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic. Like climate change, this calamity too is caused by unbridled greed, moronic militarism, and sheer indecency.   

As a result of conflicts, criminal violence and unbearable poverty caused by extractive neoliberal policies, people across the world continued to flee in 2018. Once again, the US and EU outshined the rest of the world in their cruel border policies. Families were separated and children were incarcerated at US’ southern border, while more than 2,000 died in the Mediterranean Sea, as the EU clamped down on organisations saving people from sinking boats.

As the world attention was being drawn to these calamities, Palestinian determination and endurance kept it focused on their particular predicament. For 39 consecutive weeks Palestinians were protesting near the Israel-Gaza buffer zone as part of the Great March of Return.

“Demonstrators, who launched the protests on March 30, are calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees, under the United Nations Resolution 194, and demanding an end to the 12-year Israeli blockade.” They have done so while suffering casualties under the relentless onslaught of Israeli brutalities. “Since the rallies first began, more than 215 Palestinians have been killed and at least 18,000 others injured by Israeli forces.” Arab leaders, meanwhile, from one end to another were busy appeasing Israel and normalising relations with the settler colony. 

2018 was also marked by Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal. His re-imposition of severe economic sanctions on Iranians exacerbated the already dire economic situation in the country, while the ruling Islamists dug in even more belligerently, trying to save their beleaguered regime. Labour unrest and middle-class despair intensified. Millions of human beings braced for even worse to come. 

In Europe, the growing instability of the neoliberal EU project was on full display this year with never-ending Brexit drama. The public and parliamentary debates about how or when or whether to do the Brexit and do a soft or a hard Brexit made apparent the complete lack of any working vision for Europe’s political future.

In Russia, Putin ran virtually unopposed and was re-elected for a fourth term; by its end, he will be the country’s longest serving leader in its modern history. At home, he tightened his grip on power, clamping down on the opposition and boosting the police state. Abroad, his foreign adventures – whether the military campaign in Syria, the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, or the Russian trolling and hacking ventures – have pushed the World to think and talk of another cold war and impose even more painful sanctions. 

In China, Xi Jinping kept apace economic expansionism and the cover-up of the criminal persecution of the Uighur people. Trump, meanwhile, triggered a trade war with China and added more economic fuel to the global turmoil his presidency has caused.  

In Brazil, a mass fascistic frenzy resulted in the election of a nefarious Mussolini wannabe as president. “Fascism has arrived in Brazil,” headlines screamed, “Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency will be worse than you think.” The Israeli warlord Benjamin Netanyahu of course rushed to embrace his Brazilian counterpart. 

In Sudan, a population brought to brink came out en masse for another wave of protests against a decades-old regime. As the demands of the demonstrations shifted from socio-economic changes to the downfall of the regime, President Omar al-Bashir unleashed the deadly force of his security apparatus, which killed dozens of peaceful protestors. 

The brutal murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi under the direct command of Mohammad bin Salman, however, was perhaps the single most iconic event of this last year. With barbaric brutality, Saudi Arabia abused the diplomatic sanctity of its consulate to murder and butcher one of its own citizens.  Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner protected the butcher, one out of greed, the other out of commitment the Zionist cause.    

Twenty centuries of stony sleep

Put all of these atrocities together and we might reconsider the choice of measuring the days of our lives through the Gregorian calendar, on which these horrors have historically marked themselves. Today we remember other calendars and the events of their rhyme and reasoning less consciously, except for communal, denominational, nostalgic, or otherwise purely ritualistic reasons. 

If we cannot change the world we live in, we can at least shift the consciousness of our lives we have forgotten. Imagine a world in which Jewish, Islamic, Chinese, Iranian or any other calendar were more meaningful measures of our daily lives in the unique way they arranged the world and our place in the universe.      

At the centre of all these calendars is our fragile planet, placed right next to the moon and the sun and all other countless stars. Imagine if we cared for our planet the way all these other calendars were conscious of their heavenly frames of references. Thinking in those cosmic terms – in terms of saintly sages that fathomed these calendars – would certainly teach us humility.

Things are much calmer on all these other calendars where people continue quietly with their pieties, their poetry, their ceremonies of innocence, and their collective memories of time immemorial. Instead of moving to another country or another continent or another clime, sometimes I wish we could all pack our lives and leave this calendar for another. I am not alone in this wish.    

“Now the New Year reviving old Desires, 
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires, 
Where the White Hand of Moses on the Bough 
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.”

It was an 11th century Muslim poet who wrote that poem. Today we remember Omar Khayyam mostly because of his precious quatrains brought to global attention by his kindred soul, the British poet and translator Edward FitzGerald. But in his own time, Khayyam was best known as a mathematician and astronomer who made enduring contributions to algebra, to the mapping of the wandering stars, and yes, to the calculation of accurate calendars.    

There you have it: a poet-astronomer is what our world most lacks and on this New Year’s Eve I send your way – as my sincerest best wishes for many more New Years to come – multiple lunisolar calendars.      

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance. 

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed

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On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon

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When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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