Humanists for Social Justice and Environmental Action supports Human Rights, Social and Economic Justice, Environmental Activism and Planetary Ethics in North America & Globally, with particular reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other Human Rights UN treaties and conventions listed above.


Bitcoin isn't getting greener: four environmental myths about cryptocurrency debunked

Bitcoin isn't getting greener: four environmental myths about cryptocurrency debunked

 The price of bitcoin has reached US$50,000 (£36,095) – another all-time high. It’s hard to believe that 10,000 bitcoin would only buy a couple of pizzas ten years ago. It’s even stranger to think that bitcoins are completely virtual. You can’t hold one, except on a hard drive, and there’s no underlying asset to them. A bitcoin is simply a digital representation of the computer power needed to make one, what’s called its “proof-of-work”.

This isn’t actually a new idea though. Rai stones were one of the first forms of money used on the Micronesian islands of Yap. To get hold of a Rai, you had to row a canoe for 500km or so to Palau and chisel away at some local limestone. Then you needed to take the 3m-wide lump of rock back to Yap without sinking in the Pacific. No one is quite sure when it started, but the practice is at least several centuries old. Yapese money had no inherent value. For everyone to respect the proof-of-work, the process was deliberately inefficient and incredibly resource-intensive, just like bitcoin

This might all sound like a harmless game of digital bingo. But with more and more people enticed by the heady rewards, bitcoin mining on some days uses as much energy as Poland and generates 37 million tonnes of CO2 each year.

New institutional investors, like the carmaker, Tesla, are driving the asset’s price skywards while ignoring bitcoin’s climate-changing appetite. And to keep the bull market charging, supporters are working hard to argue for bitcoin’s green credentials.



‘Poster child for destruction’: The fight to save the Duffins Creek wetland from developers |

‘Poster child for destruction’: The fight to save the Duffins Creek wetland from developers | PICKERING — Several months ago, Devin Mathura and Ally Zaheer learned that a large swath of wetland in their hometown of Pickering was set to be turned into a massive warehouse. Stuck in their respective bedrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the university students started interviewing experts and local politicians about the proposed development.
“What is most at stake is the future of our green spaces,” says Zaheer. “I am extremely worried about the fact that they're just going to get into this cycle of paving over things, and it's going to be too late before they realize what's done."
The friends reached out to students at their former high school to share what they’d learned about the Duffins Creek wetland complex, which has long been designated provincially significant, indicating its special ecological value. They set up a Zoom session with other students and explained that the development had been approved through a Minister’s Zoning Order — a provincial edict that allows the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to make decisions on land zoning while bypassing normal planning processes, such as the citizens’ rights to appeal. Then they coordinated a “phone zap.”

“Everyone muted themselves, and we started spamming Doug Ford’s office, [MPP] Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office, and the [Pickering] mayor’s office,” says Mathura, who is attending his first year of environment, resources, and sustainability studies at the University of Waterloo from his home in Pickering. “It’s really hard to see,” says Zaheer, who studies environmental engineering at the University of Guelph. “Pickering is setting itself up as the poster child for wetland destruction.”

Zaheer and Mathura see the fight for this 57-acre site, consisting largely of wetland, as part of a larger battle over public participation and the future of conservation in Ontario. They’re not alone. In a recent letter, 96 environmental organizations slammed the Progressive Conservative government’s use of MZOs to overrule protections for provincially significant wetlands and called for the Duffins Creek MZO to be revoked. And the matter is also headed for judicial review: two environmental organizations, Environmental Defence and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, filed papers about a month after the MZO was issued.

Biden to end Trump-era anti-abortion "global gag rule"


Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - 

President Joe Biden's decision to scrap a "deadly" Trump-era policy banning funding for aid groups that discuss abortion could unleash billions in dollars for life-saving services in developing countries, women's rights groups said on Thursday. "It's very, very good news. It sends a strong message that reproductive rights are human rights," said Evelyne Opondo, Africa director at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "I'm hoping this will allow many clinics to reopen across Africa and save thousands of women's lives," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.  Almost $9 billion in U.S. foreign aid is at stake under the "Mexico City Policy", also known as the "global gag rule", which prevents foreign groups providing abortion services or counselling from receiving U.S. funding. Those that have rejected the ban have lost funding, forcing them to shut reproductive health clinics and other services including HIV care. Opondo said the closures had hit women in rural areas particularly hard. "Women have died because they were not able to access facilities. They've died due to pregnancy and childbirth complications, and complications from unsafe abortions as well."

Five things to know about the nuclear ban treaty - Project Ploughshares

Five things to know about the nuclear ban treaty - Project Ploughshares

1. WHAT IS THE NUCLEAR BAN TREATY? CLICK ON IMAGE TO VIEW PDF VERSION. Formally known as the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), the nuclear ban treaty is a legally binding multilateral instrument that establishes an explicit prohibition of nuclear weapons, as a step to achieving their complete elimination. It was adopted by 122 states on July 7, 2017, at United Nations headquarters in New York. On October 24, 2020, Honduras became the 50th state to ratify the TPNW. When Honduras deposited its instrument of ratification at the United Nations, it triggered a 90-day process culminating in the treaty’s entry-into-force on January 22, 2021. Many civil society organizations, current and former diplomats, humanitarian agencies, academics and scientists from all continents, and victims of nuclear weapons testing and use view the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons as the most consequential nuclear disarmament development in decades.

The TPNW prohibits all activities that relate to the development, testing, production, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transferring, stationing, and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons.

It also proscribes assisting with, encouraging, or otherwise inducing other states to take part in any of the prohibited activities and specifically prohibits the deployment of nuclear weapons on territories under the control of states parties to the treaty. States parties also have an obligation to prevent and suppress any activity prohibited under the TPNW by persons under its jurisdiction.

In addition to these negative obligations, states parties to the TPNW have positive obligations to assist individuals and communities that have been affected by the testing or use of nuclear weapons and must also engage in environmental remediation in areas under their jurisdiction or control in which the testing or use of nuclear weapons has resulted in contamination.

With the explicit goal of universal adherence, the TPNW requires states parties to encourage all other states to join this treaty. It outlines paths to membership for states that possess nuclear weapons, states that hold nuclear weapons belonging to another state, and states that do not possess nuclear weapons or rely on nuclear alliances. In the first two cases, the treaty lays out a time-bound plan for new adherents to disassociate from any nuclear-weapons activities. A designated competent international authority will verify and ensure compliance.


More than 13,000 nuclear warheads exist today. Many are on high-alert status, ready to be launched within minutes, either deliberately or as the result of accident or misunderstanding. Any such launch would have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth.

Remarkably, while every other category of weapons of mass destruction has been specifically prohibited under international law, until the TPNW, nuclear weapons—by far the most destructive—had not. Several years ago, protesting the many failures of the global nuclear disarmament regime and openly acknowledging the catastrophic impact of any nuclear-weapons use, the nuclear-ban movement came together to eliminate this legal anomaly.

In 2013 and 2014, three conferences that focused on the catastrophic consequences of any nuclear-weapons use were held in host countries Norway, Mexico, and Austria. From these gatherings grew the widespread recognition that a legal prohibition of nuclear weapons was not only necessary but possible.

In December 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution L41, which called for negotiations on a ban on nuclear weapons; negotiations began in March 2017. Critical to these negotiations was renewed attention to the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. The humanitarian imperative to disarm served as an effective catalyst and rallying point for states and civil society organizations committed to the negotiation of the treaty.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was a strong champion for the treaty and actively participated in negotiations. In 2017, ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons.”


The NPT has failed to deliver on its promise of complete nuclear disarmament. The Non-Proliferation Treaty was designed to both prevent non-nuclear-weapon states from acquiring nuclear weapons and to compel nuclear-weapon states to eliminate their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. While it has been generally successful in achieving the former, it has utterly failed in achieving the latter. In fact, the international community remains woefully distant from a credible process that would make even the most optimistic observer believe that the abolition of nuclear weapons is within sight.

Opponents of the nuclear ban treaty have often declared that the TPNW effectively undermines the NPT. But the NPT does not prohibit complementary efforts— such as the negotiation of a prohibition treaty— to implement its provisions and advance the goal of nuclear disarmament. In fact, the negotiation of a nuclear-weapons ban constitutes a rare, specific instance of actual implementation of Article VI of the NPT, which calls on states to “pursue negotiations in good faith” that lead to nuclear disarmament.

States with nuclear weapons and their rallies continue to insist on a strict step-by-step approach to nuclear abolition. Deep-seated skepticism about this approach is not just based on doubts about future progress, but on historical evidence and current practice. The ongoing costly (possibly more than one trillion dollars) modernization of nuclear arsenals and related infrastructure, heightened tensions between superpowers, and a dysfunctional multilateral disarmament machinery underscore the inadequacy of the step-by-step process and the NPT itself.


The chief opponents are nuclear-armed states and their allies. All permanent members of the UN Security Council fall into this category, as do do all NATO member states and other nuclear-dependent states.

In a memo issued to all its NATO allies in advance of the 2016 UN General Assembly vote on the resolution that convened the ban treaty negotiations, the United States demanded that NATO members boycott the entire ban enterprise, partly because “the effects of a nuclear weapons ban treaty could be wide-ranging” and it “could impact non-parties as well as parties.”

In 2020, when it seemed clear that the TPNW would soon enter into effect, the P5 of the UN Security Council issued a letter to states that had joined the treaty, urging them to withdraw. The United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, and France indicated that they “stand unified in opposition to the potential repercussions” of the treaty.

States with nuclear weapons continue to insist that a comprehensive multilateral effort to achieve nuclear abolition is premature, although the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took place more than 75 years ago; the NPT came into force more than 50 years ago; and the Cold War ended more than 30 years ago.

Photo: On behalf of ICAN, Setsuko Thurlow, middle, and Beatrice Finn, right, accept the Nobel Peace Prize Medal from Berit Reiss-Andersen of the Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo in December 2017. ICAN Photo

A World Without the Death Penalty - Yes! Magazine

A World Without the Death Penalty - Yes! Magazine


A veteran activist describes the international movement to abolish capital punishment. In this excerpt from 13 Ways of Looking at the Death Penalty (Seven Stories Press, 2015), Italian activist Mario Marazziti describes the worldwide campaign against capital punishment and lighting up Rome’s Coliseum to mark humanity’s progress.


Human Rights Watch Briefing Note for the Nineteenth Session of the International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties | Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch Briefing Note for the Nineteenth Session of the International Criminal Court Assembly of States Parties | Human Rights Watch:

This is a decisive moment for the ICC. The court’s mandate has been under extreme pressure from the United States and, at the same time, a number of ongoing processes offer important opportunities to strengthen the court’s performance. These processes are crucial as a strengthened ICC firmly supported by its states parties will be more resilient to efforts to derail its mandate.  

States parties have the opportunity to significantly advance the court’s work through the Assembly. The Assembly is due to elect the next prosecutor and six new judges—a third of the ICC’s 18-member bench. At the same time, states parties are designing the framework to follow-up on the findings and recommendations by the independent experts tasked by the Assembly at its last session to carry out a review of the court and the Rome Statute system. They are also laying out their plans to advance parallel initiatives to strengthen the system.

This briefing note sets out recommendations to states parties for the Assembly session in the following priority areas: 1) enhancing the ICC’s delivery of justice through a process of review and bolstering political and diplomatic support to the court; 2) electing the best possible leadership for the court; and 3) ensuring adequate resources. 

(note: I was present for the FIRST inauguration of the Court in 2003, which was a very moving moment with a former judge from Auschwitz.  Of course it's under great pressure, and we can be proud that several Canadians are involved, including current Justice Kimberly Prost). 


What future for ethical AI after Google scientist firing?

The firing of a prominent scholar and advocate for Black women in tech has raised questions about the sector's commitment to independent ethical AI research. The incident has raised questions about Google's commitment to independent ethical AI research, as accusations of bias in algorithims and the ethics of facial recognition systems are increasingly coming to the fore.
"This episode has cast a pall over what we can say, or how it will be received," said Alex Hanna, a researcher on the Google AI Ethics team who studies potential bias in data informing computer vision in technology such as facial recognition and self-driving cars.  
According to an October study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Toronto, more than half of AI-tenured faculty at four major U.S. universities were receiving funds from from just a handful of tech companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, and Google.  "Dr Gebru's firing is provoking serious questions about to what extent is the business-side informing the ethical AI research being done at Google," Alkhatib said. Several AI scholars and researchers have voiced similar concerns.  
Ameet Rahane, a U.C. Berkeley graduate who studies computational neuroscience, said he'd long hoped to be offered a job at Google to work on AI after he finished a PhD.    "Now ... I would need to think long and hard before accepting it," he said.


Human Rights Day | December 10, United Nations

Human Rights Day | United Nations

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home -- so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. [...] Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger worlld"  Eleanor Roosevelt

Human Rights Day is observed every year on 10 December — the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). 
The UDHR is a milestone document that proclaims the inalienable rights which everyone is entitled to as a human being - regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Available in more than 500 languages, it is the most translated document in the world. 
 2020 Theme: Recover Better - Stand Up for Human Rights 
This year’s Human Rights Day theme relates to the COVID-19 pandemic and focuses on the need to build back better by ensuring Human Rights are central to recovery efforts. We will reach our common global goals only if we are able to create equal opportunities for all, address the failures exposed and exploited by COVID-19, and apply human rights standards to tackle entrenched, systematic, and intergenerational inequalities, exclusion and discrimination. 
 10 December is an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of human rights in re-building the world we want, the need for global solidarity as well as our interconnectedness and shared humanity. Under UN Human Rights’ generic call to action “Stand Up for Human rights”, we aim to engage the general public, our partners and the UN family to bolster transformative action and showcase practical and inspirational examples that can contribute to recovering better and fostering more resilient and just societies. 
 Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals 
Human rights are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as in the absence of human dignity we cannot hope to drive sustainable development. Human Rights are driven by progress on all SDGs, and the SDGs are driven by advancements on human rights. Find out how UN agencies strive to put human rights at the centre of their work.


The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women

The National Day of Remembrance and action on Violance Against Women

(note: there is usually a vigil at the University of Toronto, but here is information for this Day of Remembrance, if you wish to tweet or note the event.)  

Every year, from November 25 (International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women) to December 10 (World Human Rights Day), Canadians observe the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. It is an opportunity to come together to call out, speak up and renew our commitment to end gender-based violence.

It has been over 30 years since the murder of 14 young women at Polytechnique Montréal (December 6, 1989). This act of violent misogyny shook our country and led Parliament to designate December 6 as The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women.

On December 6, we remember:

Geneviève Bergeron
Hélène Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz

As we mourn their loss and honour their memory, we reaffirm our commitment to fight the hatred that led to this tragedy, and the misogyny that still exists today. In Canada and around the world, women, girls, LGBTQ2 (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two spirit) and gender diverse individuals face unacceptable violence and discrimination. Gender-based violence in Canada has been magnified and amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been reports from police services, shelters and local organization of an increase in calls related to gender-based violence across Canada during the pandemic.

The National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women is about remembering those who have experienced gender-based violence and those who we have lost to it; it is also a time to take action. Working together we can help prevent and address gender-based violence by remembering and learning from our past, listening to survivors, and speaking up against harmful behaviour.

December 6 falls within the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence. Add your voice to the conversation between November 25 and December 10 and share the ways you are being part of the solution to end gender-based violence using the hashtag #16Days.rance and Action on Violence against Women


Humans waging 'suicidal war' on nature - UN chief Antonio Guterres

Humans waging 'suicidal war' on nature - UN chief Antonio Guterres - BBC News

"Our planet is broken," the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has warned.

Humanity is waging what he describes as a "suicidal" war on the natural world.

"Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury," he told a BBC special event on the environment.

Mr Guterres wants to put tackling climate change at the heart of the UN's global mission.

In a speech entitled State of the Planet, he announced that its "central objective" next year will be to build a global coalition around the need to reduce emissions to net zero.

Net zero refers to cutting greenhouse gas emissions as far as possible and balancing any further releases by removing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.

Mr Guterres said that every country, city, financial institution and company "should adopt plans for a transition to net zero emissions by 2050". In his view, they will also need to take decisive action now to put themselves on the path towards achieving this vision.

The objective, said the UN secretary general, will be to cut global emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2010 levels.


update on Dec 10, Human Rights Day

Every year on 10 December, the world celebrates Human Rights Day, the very day when, in 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Declaration consists of a preamble and 30 articles that set out a broad range of fundamental human rights and freedoms to which all of us, everywhere around the world, are entitled. It guarantees our rights without distinction of nationality, place of residence, gender, national or ethnic origin, religion, language, or any other status.

The Declaration was drafted by representatives of all regions and legal traditions. It has over time been accepted as a contract between Governments and their peoples. Virtually all States have accepted the Declaration. It has since served as the foundation for an expanding system of human rights protection that today focuses also on vulnerable groups such as persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrants.

See more info at the link above


As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners

As cobalt demand booms, companies must do more to protect Congolese miners

The Democratic Republic of Congo is the major source of some of the minerals used to manufacture components in household appliances, mobile phones, electric vehicles and jewellery.
The mineral extraction industry is the backbone of the Congolese economy. Copper and cobalt, which is a by-product of copper, accounts for 85% of the country’s exports. Because of the huge mineral deposits available in the country, it is often the only sourcing option for companies.
Cobalt is an essential mineral for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops and smart phones. It offers the highest energy density and is key for boosting battery life.
The Katanga region in the south of the Democratic Republic of Congo is home to more than half of the world’s cobalt resources, and over 70% of the current cobalt production worldwide takes place in the country. Demand for cobalt is projected to surge fourfold by 2030 in pace with the electric vehicle boom.
However, mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo is risky because of the prevalence of artisanal small-scale mining. Artisanal mining is often carried out by hand, using basic equipment. It’s a largely informal and labour-intensive activity on which more than two million Congolese miners depend for income.
And this mining method comes with major human rights risks such as child labour and dangerous working conditions. Fatal accidents in unsafe tunnels occur frequently. And there are detailed reports such as the one by Amnesty International on the prevalence of child labour in these operations.
Because artisanal miners frequently extract cobalt illegally on industrial mining sites, human rights issues cannot be excluded from industrial production. Artisanally mined cobalt also often gets mixed with the industrial production when it is sold to intermediaries in the open market. Typically, it is then shipped to refineries in China for further processing and then sold to battery manufacturers around the world. In this complex supply chain, separating, tracking and tracing artisanally mined cobalt is almost impossible.
International human rights organisations have flagged human rights abuses, putting pressure on multinational corporations that buy Congolese cobalt. In response to these pressures, some automotive and electronics companies are currently not sourcing cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo because they want to avoid tainting their brand image.
But that strategy won’t work for long, as no other country will be able to satisfy the rising demand for cobalt. The production of other cobalt-exporting countries such as Russia, Canada, Australia and the Philippines accounts for less than 5% of the global production.
How companies in the cobalt supply chain can source responsible cobalt from the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid these human rights risks is a question worth exploring. We address this question in a recent study, in which we suggest companies should acknowledge the need for common standards for responsibly mined cobalt.

Currently, there is no common understanding of what “responsible” artisanal cobalt should entail. The quest for responsible mineral sourcing is not a cobalt-specific challenge. The Congolese mining code establishes certain basic standards such as the prohibition of miners under the age of 18. There are also requirements to register as an artisanal miner and become a member of a mining cooperative.
One approach towards common standards is to mount “artisanal and small-scale mining formalisation projects”. The few existing projects establish rules for the mining site that are defined and enforced by the project partners. These usually consist of cooperatives, mine operators and buyers.
One of us visited two active formalisation projects in Kolwezi in Katanga province. Based on the observations during the September 2019 visit, we believe that formalisation is a viable path to making artisanal mining safe and fair.
Formalisation works because operational measures are put in place to mitigate safety risks. For example, the extraction is supervised by mining engineers. Also, the project site is fenced off and has exit and entry controls. This ensures that no underage, pregnant or drunk miners can work on site.
But for formalisation projects to yield “responsible” artisanal cobalt, common standards and consistent enforcement are necessary. Currently, formalisation means different things in different sites.
National standards for mine safety exist, but they need to be enforced uniformly. Where current standards fall short of reassuring buyers, further measures need to be developed by a consortium of the key players. This should involve mining cooperatives, concession holders, the government, civil society organisations, and other companies along the battery supply chain.
The 2018 amendments to the mining code introduced a legal basis for the subcontracting of artisanal miners by industrial mining companies. In January 2020, the Congolese government created an entity that will oversee artisanal and small-scale mining activities. These are positive steps.
The development of artisanal mining standards through a process involving key players needs to build on and strengthen these existing national laws and strategies. Furthermore, private actors should support government efforts by identifying parameters and means of evaluation to ensure the consistent enforcement of these standards. A discussion about responsible sourcing strategies and practices is indispensable for all brands that care about the human rights implications of their operations.

To illustrate how a multi-stakeholder discussion over responsible sourcing standards translates into practice, we can examine tunnel construction to extract the ores underground at artisanal and small-scale mining sites.
The first issue is whether tunnels should be allowed at all or whether responsible artisanal cobalt should take place exclusively from open pits. Open pits are considered significantly safer. If only open pits are considered responsible, who will pay for the earth-moving machines needed to create open pits?  If tunnels are allowed, how deep can they be? While relevant mining regulations limit tunnel depth to 30 metres and tunnel inclination to 15%, international buyers of cobalt do not consider this safe.  Given that horizontal tunnel construction is particularly dangerous, should horizontal tunnels be banned entirely from sites? If tunnels are permitted, should miners receive training on construction safety, and if so, who will pay for these programmes?
These processes and regulations must be standardised and widely adopted. Only when this happens will automotive and electronics companies be reassured that they are not contributing to human rights violations. And only then will they feel confident buying Congolese cobalt.