The National·Newsletter

The National Today: Canada puts coal in crosshairs as scientists warn Earth in peril

A deeper dive into the day's most important stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

A deeper dive into the day's most important stories

More than 400 people were killed and hundreds more injured when a 7.3-magnitude earthquake shook the mountainous Iran-Iraq border region Monday, triggering landslides that hindered rescue efforts. (Farzad Menati/AFP/Getty Images)

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A dire warning

The Earth as we know it, is in mortal danger.

That's the conclusion of more than 15,000 scientists from 184 countries who have signed a stark warning to humanity: We must change our ways or face imminent destruction.

Stabilizing the hole in the ozone layer is one of the few areas where meaningful progress has been made to improve the environment in the past 25 years, a group of international scientists says. (NASA/Getty Images)

Citing climate change, galloping deforestation, mass extinctions on land and in the water,  and runaway population growth, the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity aims to serve as a sobering wake-up call.

Although tellingly, this marks the second occasion that the group has pulled the global alarm. Twenty-five years ago, their first warning declared that humanity "was pushing Earth's ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life."

Rampant deforestation is one of the issues of particular concern in the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity. (CBC)

Since then, the groups says almost no meaningful progress has been made — with the sole exception of the stabilization of the hole in the ozone layer.

"We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption, and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats," says the updated document, signed by 527 Canadian academics.

So perhaps it's good news that Canada and the U.K. plan to press the rest of the world to start shutting down coal-fired power plants in  the current round of United Nations COP climate negotiations, which began last week in Germany.

Giant machines dig for brown coal in front of a power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany. Canada and the U.K. plan to press the rest of the world to start shutting down coal-fired power plants. (Martin Meissner/The Associated Press)

Only about 10 per cent of Canada's energy comes from coal plants, and the federal government has already pledged to phase out "unabated" coal use by 2030.

It will be a tougher sell abroad, however, with some 40 per cent of global power still derived from burning the fossil fuels.

What remains to be seen is whether a sudden decline in the construction and permitting of new coal plants last year is the beginning of a trend. The United States and other western nations were already moving away from the dirty, old technology, but 2016 saw China and India scale back their coal expansion plans dramatically. Environmental concerns were part of those decisions, but so were financial realities — international lenders are becoming more and more reluctant to provide funds for planet-warming projects.

Rosemary Barton on assignment

Jeremy Siwanis and his daughter Janelle of Deer Lake First Nation struggled with whether she should attend high school in Thunder Bay. They decided that for safety reasons she would go to school in Sioux Lookout. (Dave Rae/CBC)

The vastness of this country is sometimes overwhelming.

It took me four planes — three of  them, very tiny — to get to Deer Lake First Nation in northern Ontario.

And once I arrived, it quickly became clear that not all Canadians enjoy the same quality of life. Take education, for example. Teenagers in Deer Lake and other nearby communities have to go far away to finish high school — to Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Red Lake or Sioux Lookout. A situation that strikes me as profoundly unfair.

Families in this town of around 1,000 are making different — and very difficult — choices about their children's schooling. Because sending their kids away isn't just a question of distance and separation; it's sometimes a matter of life and death.

Since 2000, nine indigenous children have died in Thunder Bay, six of them drowning in local waterways. Two of those deaths were ruled accidental by a coroner's inquest, but suspicions linger about the other fatalities.

Parents and teens in places like Deer Lake know that reality, and have to decide if they're willing to accept the risk.

Cheaters never posture

Alexander Legkov, who won cross-country gold for Russia in Sochi, was banned from future Olympics after a doping investigation. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)

We already know that the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics won't have NHL hockey players. But suddenly it's looking like these Games might not have any Russian athletes either.

On the weekend, the World Anti-Doping Agency confirmed it has received fresh information about Team Russia's widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs at the London and Sochi Olympics, in the form of a database detailing all Russian athlete tests between Jan. 2012 and Aug. 2015.

The records were provided by the man who oversaw the Moscow lab for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), Grigory Rodchenkov, a key player in the cheating conspiracy who has now apparently turned whistleblower

  • Dozens of Russian athletes were banned from competing at Rio 2016, but WADA and the International Olympic Committee were finding it difficult — or perhaps politically inconvenient — to take further action. For example, last Sept., 95 of the first 96 athletes under investigation were cleared due to "insufficient evidence" — in large part because Russian authorities had refused to cooperate and destroyed urine samples.

  • In recent weeks, there had even been talk of a final settlement of the doping issue, with the IOC levying an $80 million fine and banning the Russian flag and anthem in Pyeongchang.

At Russia's national drug-testing laboratory, lab director Grigory Rodchenkov conducted pioneering research into steroids. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

"Clean athletes should not bear responsibility for those breaching the rules," Pavel Kolobkov, Russia's minister of sport said late last week. "A principle, in according to which the entire team is punished for the wrongdoings of some of the athletes, cannot be right."

Russian athletes won 72 medals in London, including 21 golds, and a further 33 at home in Sochi, where they topped the podium 13 times. Seventeen of those have already been stripped away, and more are now sure to follow.

The Russians aren't about to surrender, however. Last week, in the wake of lifetime bans for six Russian skiers, the head of the national cross-country federation issued a call to arms.

"We have a saying in Russia: Hope is the last thing to die," said Elena Valbe. "We will move forward and will fight till the last drop of blood. The war has just started."

A deadly quake in Iran

(CBC News)

At least 407 people are dead and more than 6,700 injured, following a powerful earthquake last night along the Iran-Iraq border. The epicentre of the 7.3 magnitude tremor was close to Ezgeleh, a town of 1,000 located 750 km southeast of Tehran.

The region remains without power and rescuers continue to sift through the rubble, sometimes using their cellphone flashlights. The death toll is expected to rise.

Iran sits atop multiple fault-lines, and in the past, far-less-powerful quakes have taken a deadly toll. In Dec. 2003, a 6.6 magnitude tremor levelled the ancient city of Bam, killing upwards of 20,000. And in June, 1990, more than 35,000 died when a 7.4 magnitude quake hit the central city of Manjil.

To date, 2017 has been a relatively quiet year for quakes, with just six of 7.0 magnitude or greater recorded, compared to 16 in 2016, and 19 in 2015.

Quote of the moment

"We are profoundly worried that in some parts of government the current preparations are not proceeding with anything like sufficient energy."

- Brexit backers Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in a widely-leaked, "secret" letter to their boss, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May.

The British pound dropped against world currencies Monday as reports circulated questioning how much support Prime Minister Theresa May has within her own party. (Matt Dunham/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • How Saudi Arabia turned against Lebanon's PM (Reuters)
  • Ban on killer robots urgently needed say scientists. (Guardian)
  • Trump team begins drafting a Middle East peace plan. (NY Times.)
  • Let little boys wear tutus and high heels, says Church of England (Telegraph)
  • A preview of the controversial, new $500 million Museum of the Bible in Washington (CBC)
  • Older man dislikes change. (Globe and Mail)

Today in history

Nov. 13, 1969: Gordon Lightfoot "raps" with Vancouver teens. ""I've never contrived a song about Canada," he says. "Unless it was that time I wrote about Gerta Munsigner."

Gordon Lightfoot raps with Vancouver teens

4 years ago
Duration 10:49
Gordon Lightfoot and Bob Shane of the Kingston Trio engage in a casual chat with a group of Vancouver teens.


Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.