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Environment

Elon Musk visits Brazil’s Bolsonaro to discuss Amazon plans

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By Diane Jeantet in Rio De Janeiro

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Tesla and SpaceX chief executive officer Elon Musk met with Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Friday to discuss connectivity and other projects in the Amazon rainforest.

The meeting, held in a luxurious resort in Sao Paulo state, was organized by Communications Minister Fábio Faria, who has said he is seeking partnerships with the world’s richest man to bring or improve internet in schools and health facilities in rural areas using technology developed by SpaceX and Starlink, and also to preserve the rainforest.

“Super excited to be in Brazil for launch of Starlink for 19,000 unconnected schools in rural areas & environmental monitoring of Amazon,” Musk tweeted Friday morning.

Illegal activities in the vast Amazon rainforest are monitored by several institutions, such as the national space agency, federal police and environmental regulator Ibama.

But deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has surged under Bolsonaro, reaching its highest annual rate in more than a decade, according to official data from the national space agency. Bolsonaro’s critics say he is largely to blame, having emboldened loggers and land grabbers with his fervent support for development of the region.

During the event, Bolsonaro said the region was “really important” to Brazil.

“We count on Elon Musk so that the Amazon is known by everyone in Brazil and in the world, to show the exuberance of this region, how we are preserving it, and how much harm those who spread lies about this region are doing to us,” he said.

Bolsonaro and Musk appeared in a video transmitted live on the president’s Facebook account, standing together on a stage and answering questions from a group of students.

“A lot can be done to improve quality of life through technology,” Musk told the crowd.

Although none of the students asked about Musk’s prospective purchase of Twitter, Bolsonaro said that it represented a “breath of hope.”

“Freedom is the cement for the future,” he said, calling the billionaire a “legend of freedom.”

Musk has offered to buy Twitter for $44 billion, but said this week the deal can’t go forward until the company provides information about how many accounts on the platform are spam or bots.

Like Musk, Bolsonaro has sought to position himself as a champion of free speech and opposed the deplatforming of individuals including his ally, former U.S. President Donald Trump.

The meeting with Bolsonaro occurs just five months before the far-right leader will seek a second term in a hotly anticipated election.

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Alberta

Environmental groups raise concerns about proposed Calgary-to-Banff passenger train

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By Colette Derworiz in Calgary

Conservation advocates and experts are concerned a proposal for a Calgary-to-Banff passenger train is chugging along without addressing some key environmental issues in and around the national park.

Liricon Capital Inc., the lead private-sector proponent, is touting it as a hydrogen-powered transportation solution with lower greenhouse gas emissions than driving.

The company says it has received support from municipalities and the tourism industry, but the Alberta government has told the Globe and Mail it won’t invest in the $1.5-billion train as it stands because the financial risks are too high.

Environmental organizations — including Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Yellowstone to Yukon and Bow Valley Naturalists — and some scientists say the proposal also has environmental risks.

“This is one of the most important conservation landscapes in North America,” Tony Clevenger, a senior wildlife research scientist with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, said from Banff, Alta. “It also happens to be one of the busiest in terms of transportation infrastructure.

“The thought of this new rail line, which would be really close to the existing rail line, is really troublesome — not just in the park, but outside the park on provincial lands and Stoney Nakoda (First Nations) as well.”

Concerns include wildlife deaths along the rail line — particularly grizzly bears, which have been hit and killed on the existing track — and the fragmentation of wildlife habitat in Alberta’s already busy Bow Valley.

Josh Welsh, Alberta program manager for Yellowstone to Yukon, said passenger rail to Banff isn’t a bad idea.

“We see it as a means to potentially provide a sustainable transportation vision that could work for wildlife, people and the planet,” he said.

But, he added, there’s not enough information or collaboration to know whether it works for wildlife.

“The Bow Valley is already being squeezed by development.”

A recent report by the Canmore, Alta.-based organization found the mountain town’s footprint has grown five times in 50 years. It focused on grizzly bears because “if you take care of grizzlies, you take care of a lot of other things.”

The report found bears have lost about 85 per cent of their original habitat in the Bow Valley.

“So, when you talk about another piece of linear infrastructure, which a train line is … we are talking about cutting up the habitat, disconnecting wildlife,” he said.

Devon Earl, conservation specialist with Alberta Wilderness Association, said the Calgary-based organization has similar concerns.

“We don’t think there has been adequate assessment of how wildlife will be impacted,” she said.

She also questions whether a train would actually reduce cars on the highway, saying bus service may be more cost-effective.

Liricon has said Parks Canada needs to consider raising the entry fee to Banff National Park for private passenger vehicles and expanding bus and shuttle service between park attractions.

Parks Canada said in a statement that its first priority is to protect the ecological integrity in national parks, but it’s “not currently reviewing a proposal for passenger rail in Banff National Park.” Any review, it added, would look at policy and legislation, including the Impact Assessment Act and park priorities.

Jan Watrous, managing partner with Liricon, said a study shows the train could carry about 11 million passengers annually and reduce highway traffic.

“The fact that the passenger train will be a zero-emission hydrogen train and significantly reduce vehicle traffic … means human and wildlife mortality on the highways will be dramatically reduced,” she said. “The specifics of the hydrogen solution and wildlife mitigations will be determined through consultation.”

The company has said it’s considering using technology such as lighting or sound to warn animals about approaching trains and reduce wildlife deaths on the tracks.

Colleen Cassady St. Clair, a biologist with the University of Alberta, said she spoke to Liricon about that idea, which came out of some research she led.

Although early tests show it can be effective for some wildlife, she said “there’s a lot of untested terrain in a warning-based system.”

St. Clair said there could also be challenges with wildlife crossing structures that go over or under the tracks.

Clevenger, who specializes in wildlife crossings, said he’s heard the company was looking at underpasses to align with those under the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park.

“That’s very simplistic and completely unfeasible,” he said. “You can’t put in an underpass on the new rail line without putting an underpass on the (Canadian Pacific Railway) main line. You’d have to do both.”

Clevenger said the measure would reduce already-compromised wildlife habitat.

A passenger train, he added, could end up increasing overall traffic to the national park.

“It’s a landscape that is just overflowing with people,” he said. “I don’t think they can manage it.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022

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Economy

Plastics producers ask court to quash planned federal ban on single-use straws, cups

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OTTAWA — More than two dozen plastic makers are asking the Federal Court to put an end to Ottawa’s plan to ban several single-use plastic items including straws, cutlery and takeout containers.

It is the second lawsuit filed in the court by a coalition of plastics makers calling themselves the Responsible Plastic Use Coalition.

The first suit filed in 2021 seeks to overturn the government’s decision to designate plastics as “toxic” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault used that designation to publish regulations that will ban the sale, import and production of six plastic items.

The second lawsuit filed in mid-July asks the Federal Court to quash the ban, prohibit the government from using the act to regulate single-use plastics and prevent the ban from being implemented in the meantime.

Guilbeault says he is confident the government’s regulations will be upheld and would rather work with the industry to improve recycling than battle the sector in court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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