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Canada’s Energy Juggernaut Hits a Native Roadblock January 15, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Energy, Environment, First Nations, Idle No More.
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Published on Tuesday, January 15, 2013 by The Star

by Linda McQuaig

Those who believe we can freely trash the environment in our quest to make ourselves richer suffer from a serious delusion — a delusion that doesn’t appear to afflict aboriginal people.

A Vancouver protester highlights the environment on Jan. 11. (Photograph: Ben Nelms / Reuters)

Aboriginals tend to live in harmony with Mother Earth. Their approach has long baffled and irritated Canada’s white establishment, which regards it as a needless impediment to unbridled economic growth.

Nowhere is this irritation more palpable than inside Stephen Harper’s government, with its fierce determination to turn Canada into an “energy superpower,” regardless of the environmental consequences.

So it’s hardly surprising that the Harper government has ended up in a confrontation with Canada’s First Nations.

Certainly the prime minister has shown a ruthlessness in pursuing his goal of energy superpowerdom.

He has gutted long-standing Canadian laws protecting the environment, ramming changes through Parliament last December as part of his controversial omnibus bill. He has thumbed his nose at global efforts to tackle climate change, revoking Canada’s commitment to Kyoto.

And he’s launched a series of witch-hunt audits of environmental groups that dared to challenge the rampant development of Alberta’s oilsands — one of the world’s biggest sources of climate-changing emissions — as well as plans for pipelines through environmentally sensitive areas.

But, while there’s been some resistance from provincial governments, opposition parties, and environmentalists, Ottawa’s energy juggernaut has continued to surge ahead.

At least until now. With the First Nations, Harper may have met his Waterloo.

Among other things, Harper’s attack on Canada’s environmental laws included rewriting parts of the Indian Act, thereby removing safeguards for native land and waters that are protected in the Constitution.

Of course, even with the Constitution on the side of aboriginals, it’s hard to imagine a group consisting of some of the poorest people on the continent taking on the federal government, backed up by corporate Canada, and winning.

After all, the First Nations are divided, and the government has deftly exploited these divisions. Furthermore, many influential media commentators side with the government, helping it portray aboriginals as impractical dreamers unable to understand the dictates of the global economy.

And restless natives have been a permanent political backdrop in Canada, unable to even ensure clean drinking water for themselves, let alone shape the government’s agenda.

But what’s new and potentially game-changing is Idle No More, the youth-based native initiative that, suddenly and unpredictably, has grown into a feisty grassroots movement — one that has shown the potential to attract activists from Occupy Wall Street, the Quebec student movement and even middle-class Canadians starting to wonder if barbecuing weather in mid-January suggests we’re playing too fast and loose with the environment.

Idle No More grew directly out of the resistance to Harper’s energy juggernaut. Pam Palmater, a Mi’kmaq and spokesperson for Idle No More, notes that changes in the omnibus bill make it easier to overcome native resistance to energy projects. For instance, the changes would enable a handful of natives, without support from the band majority, to surrender reserve land to Enbridge, enabling it to build a pipeline.

The Harper government will undoubtedly mobilize resources and cunning against Idle No More.

Whatever happens, it’s hard not to be inspired by this gutsy, earthy band that has asserted itself in the tradition pioneered by native-influenced governments in Ecuador and Bolivia, both of which have passed laws giving Mother Earth legal protections.

Canadians have reason to be ashamed of our treatment of aboriginals — from residential schools to the continuing failure to provide basic necessities like water, housing and education to people whose ancestors were here long before ours arrived.

Ironically, their insistence on their constitutional rights, as Palmater notes, may be the last best hope of Canadians to reverse our own culture’s reckless disregard for the dictates of Mother Earth, who ultimately is more demanding and unforgiving even than the global economy. Rising GDP levels won’t mean much if we’re swamped by rising sea levels.

The very least we can do is to get behind this ragtag group that has, in a few short weeks, shown more wisdom than our “advanced” society has mustered in decades.

Linda McQuaig’s column appears monthly. lmcquaig@sympatico.ca

© 2013 The Star
Linda McQuaig

Linda McQuaig is a columnist for the Toronto Star. She first came to national prominence in 1989 for uncovering the Patti Starr Affair, where a community leader was found to have used charitable funds for the purpose of making illegal donations to lobby the government. McQuaig was awarded the National Newspaper Award for her work on this story. The National Post has called her “Canada’s Michael Moore”. Linda is the author (with Neil Brooks) of Billionaires’ Ball: Gluttony and Hubris in an Age of Epic Inequality, published by Beacon Press.

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Green Light? State Department Tar Sands Report Sparks Outrage August 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Environment.
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Published on Friday, August 26, 2011 by Canadian Press

  by Lee-Anne Goodman

WASHINGTON – The U.S. State Department says TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline poses no major risks to the environment and will not spur further oilsands production in Alberta, moving the controversial project one step further to a final decision by the Obama administration.

The State Dept. report was not a surprise to the American environmental movement, for whom opposition to the pipeline has become a passionate rallying cry in the aftermath of failed climate change legislation last year. (Photo: Ben Powless for Tar Sands Action/CC BY)

Insisting repeatedly that its long-awaited assessment was “not a rubberstamp,” the department’s Kerri-Ann Jones said Friday there’s no evidence the pipeline will significantly impact the six U.S. states in its path as it carries crude from northern Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in Texas.

“This is not the rubberstamp for this project,” said Jones, disputing several big American environmental groups who immediately decried it as such.

“The permit that is required for this project has not been approved or rejected at all … it should not be seen as a lean in any direction either for or against this pipeline. We are in a state of neutrality.”

Canadian officials intend to continue to develop technologies that will lessen the greenhouse gas emissions associated with oilsands production, according to the analysis.

“We are working closely with them,” Jones told a conference call in the U.S. capital. “We closely follow what’s going on in terms of international regulations in this area.”

She added that oilsands production will continue with or without the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Obama administration now has 90 days to determine whether the controversial project is in the national interest of the United States. In that determination, Jones said, State Department officials will consider the environmental assessment as well as the economic impact of the pipeline and “foreign policy concerns.”

The outcome wasn’t a surprise to the American environmental movement, for whom opposition to the pipeline has become a passionate rallying cry in the aftermath of failed climate change legislation last year.

Leading environmentalists say the State Department has refused to fully assess the risks.

The Natural Resources Defense Council accused the State Department of failing to study pipeline safety measures or examine alternate routes that would avoid the Ogallala aquifer in Nebraska, a crucial source of water in the state.

In fact, the State Department report said TransCanada needed to conduct more study, and possibly add more anti-spill precautions, around the aquifer.

Jones add that alternative routes had also been studied.

“We feel that the proposed route of the applicant is the preferred route … alternative routes were either worse or similar,” she said.

The NRDC’s Susan Casey-Lefkowitz expressed dismay at the State Department’s assessment in a statement.

“It is utterly beyond me how the administration can claim the pipeline will have ‘no significant impacts’ if they haven’t bothered to do in-depth studies around the issues of contention,” she said.

“The public has made their concerns clear and the administration seems to have ignored them. If permitted, the proposed Keystone XL tarsands pipeline will be a dirty legacy that will haunt President Obama and Secretary Clinton for years to come.”

Jim Lyon, senior vice-president of the National Wildlife Federation, said the analysis was “strike 3 for the State Department” after two “failed rounds” of environmental review and warned of legal woes ahead.

“The document still fails to address the key concerns for landowners and wildlife,” he said. “It is almost certain to be scrutinized in other venues, including a probable legal challenge. This only escalates the controversy in a process that is far from over.”

The State Department analysis comes as anti-pipeline activists continue a two-week civil disobedience campaign outside the White House.

More than 300 people, including Canadian actress Margot Kidder, have been arrested as they try to convince U.S. President Barack Obama to block the pipeline. As many as 54 more were arrested on Friday.

Environmental activists say Keystone XL is a disaster waiting to happen, pointing to several recent spills along pipelines, and are opposed to Alberta’s oilsands due to the high levels of greenhouse gas emissions involved in their production.

Proponents, meantime, say the pipeline will create thousands of jobs and help end U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil.

TransCanada president Russ Girling welcomed the State Department report.

“Support for Keystone XL continues to grow because the public, opinion leaders and elected officials can see the clear benefits that this pipeline will deliver to Americans,” he said in a news release.

“The fundamental issue is energy security. Through the Keystone system, the U.S. can secure access to a stable and reliable supply of oil from Canada where we protect human rights and the environment, or it can import more higher-priced oil from nations who do not share America’s interests or values.”

© 2011 Canadian Press

Interview: James Hansen on the Tar Sands Pipeline Protest, the Obama Administration and Intergenerational Justice

Posted: 8/21/11 06:21 PM ET
On the first day of a planned two-week sit in at the White House organized by TarSandsAction over 70 people were arrested including one of the lead organizers organizer Bill McKibben.
In an attempt to intimidate concerned citizens and policy makers from
continuing the sit-in, the National Park Service did not honor its
previous agreement with McKibben and others to “catch and release”
participants but is holding them in jail over the weekend. Numerous
environmental organizations and leading climate scientists have
condemned the Keystone XL Pipeline project which would bring 900,000
barrels of dirty oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to Texas refineries.
Preeminent climate scientist and director of NASA’s Goddard Institute James Hansen
has described the Alberta Tar Sands oil extraction development as a
game-over proposition for climate change. Sunday afternoon, he addressed
the continuing struggle to address the ever increasing threat of
anthropogenic climate change. Dr. Hansen will be participating in the
protest against the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in Washington, DC on
August 29th with religious leaders.

JC: President Obama had lofty promises regarding climate change and
the environment during his campaign. To date, his administration has
failed to deliver and is now positioned to approve the Tar Sands
Pipeline, the worst idea in many years in terms of its impact on
climate. Do you see any signs that the Obama administration is moving to
seriously address climate change? Do you feel they administration
deserves a second chance?

JH: Are they serious?  The tar sands pipeline approval or
disapproval will provide the sign of whether the Obama administration is
serious about climate change and protecting the future of young people.Do they deserve a second chance?  Yes, everybody deserves a second chance.

Obama’s first chance was when he was elected — he could have made
energy independence and climate a top priority.  Talking nice about sun
and wind and green jobs is just greenwash.  The only effective policy
would be a rising carbon fee collected from fossil fuel companies with
100 percent of the funds distributed to the public — stimulating the
economy and moving us rapidly toward a clean energy future.  Anything
less is just blather.

 

JC: CO2 levels have now exceeded 391 ppm, and US emissions are growing
again at a record rate, over 4% this year so far. This in spite of an
ever increasing body of scientific evidence that unequivocally
demonstrates anthropogenic climate change to be seriously affecting
global climate life support systems. It would seem that policy makers
and business leaders the world over are incapable of altering the
dead-on course to climate collapse. What can be done?

JH: The problem is that the policy makers the world over are
paying more attention to the fossil fuel lobbyists than they are to the
well being of young people and nature, as my colleagues and I have
described in the paper “The Case for Young People and Nature”.Until the public demands otherwise, the policy makers will continue to serve their financiers.

That’s the point of the present action — to draw attention to the
inter-generational injustice of current policies — our children and
grandchildren are getting shafted by our well-oiled coal-fired
politicians who do not look beyond their next election.

The tar sands verdict will show whether he really intends to move us
to clean energy or whether he will instead support going after dirtier
and dirtier fuels (tar sands, oil shale, mountaintop removal, long-wall
coal mining, hydro-fracking, deep ocean and Arctic exploration, etc.).

2011-08-21-6062545625_9e52c822e5.jpgGus Speth, Bill McKibben, and others at White House
protesting the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline/Photo Credit: Josh
Lopez/Tarsandsaction 

JC: As you know over 70 people including our friends Bill McKibben and
Gus Speth were arrested yesterday in front of the White House. As
always, Bill and the group had repeated discussions with the authorities
prior to the action and were assured that this would be “catch and
release”. As it turns out the National Park Service changed the terms of
engagement and are holding everyone (except DC residents) over the
weekend to discourage others from participating in the two weeks of
protest. Do you think this change of tactic by the National Park Service
will be effective in dissuading others from attending?

JH: No.  What we are doing to the future of our children,
and the other species on the planet, is a clear moral issue.  As Albert
Einstein said, “thought without action is a crime.”  Choosing silence
and safety is not an option.Jail threats did not dissuade Martin Luther King — and
intergenerational justice is a moral issue of comparable magnitude to
civil rights.

 


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