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Canada’s real international shame — and it’s not Ford November 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canada petroleum, Canadian Mining, Environment.
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Roger’s note: the author ends this article by lamenting the damage done by the Harper government to “Canada’s global reputation.”  What needs to be added to this are the damages themselves done not only to our environment but to the thousands of human beings who suffer at the policies of this mean-spirited and imperious government.

 

Canada has become the target of unprecedented international condemnation as one of the world’s worst polluters.

big_trucks.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

 

The international community is unimpressed with Canada’s environmental record, which for some includes the oilsands industry in Alberta.

 

Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS

 

 

When will this horrid scandal end? Can someone please turn the channel? Shamed on the world stage and ridiculed by many, Canada has been exposed in recent days as a country with political leadership that is greedy, self-indulgent, incompetent and dismissive of our children, as well as woefully captive of special interests.

And I’m not referring to Rob Ford. His 15 seconds of fame — as “The Crack-smoking Mayor Who Knocked Down Granny,” as London’s tabloids described him — will end one day. Just keep breathing deeply.

 

I mean, in tabloid terms, another story: “The Short-Sighted Canadian Government That Robbed Our Children.” And, sadly, its legacy may never end.

 

What makes it worse is that this comes at a time when the government of Stephen Harper faces criticism for blackening Canada’s reputation in foreign policy in other areas as well.

 

Although it hasn’t received the media attention of the Ford soap opera, Canada in the past week has been the target of unprecedented international condemnation as one of the world’s worst polluters. These reports have coincided with a major UN climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland.

 

One after another, accusations have been directed at the Harper government for being an international deadbeat when it comes to climate change and the environment.

 

The Washington-based Center for Global Development ranked Canada dead last among the 27 wealthy nations it assessed in terms of environmental protection. Every other country has made progress except Canada, according to the group.

 

A report issued this week by the Europe-based Germanwatch and Climate Action Network placed Canada at the bottom of an international list of countries in tackling greenhouse-gas emissions, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

 

By any measurement, this is not how most Canadians want their country to be seen internationally in an area so crucial to Canada as the environment. This challenges the conventional wisdom — often reflected in current political debate and media coverage — that Canadians have tired of the environment and climate change as public policy issues.

 

According to a new survey released last Monday, Canadians increasingly believe — six in 10 — that climate change is real and caused by human activity, which is the highest level since 2007. But they are losing faith in government to address the issue. The survey was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research and the David Suzuki Foundation.

 

These results were broadly consistent with another national survey released in early November that showed that three out of four Canadians were concerned about climate change but many were critical of how the federal government handled the issue. The poll was sponsored by the Canada 2020 think tank and the University of Montreal, and was conducted by Leger Marketing.

 

The Canadian government’s handling of climate change is part of a pattern. Domestic political calculations here in Canada — rather than any high-minded sense of Canada’s international obligations — seem to drive the Harper government’s foreign policy decisions.

 

How else to explain Canada’s unquestioning support of the Israeli government? The price of that has been to relegate Canada to irrelevance in the Middle East.

 

How else to explain Canada’s abrupt decision a year ago to pull its embassy out of Iran? The price of that has been to eliminate any possibility Canada can be a factor in the current nuclear negotiations. Even Britain is now taking steps to reconcile with Iran.

 

How else to explain Harper’s decision to boycott the recent Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka in response to pressure from Canada’s Tamil community? The price of that was to sideline Canada from the human rights debate at the conference. In contrast, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the conference, was able to challenge directly the Sri Lankan government for its handling of the Tamil minority.

 

The Rob Ford scandal has been a genuine black eye for Canada. His continuing presence on the political scene is as mystifying to foreigners as it is embarrassing to Canadians. But one day, thankfully, Ford will be gone.

 

In a variety of areas including climate change, the damage being done by the Harper government to Canada’s global reputation is a stain that will stay with us for much longer.

 

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. (tony.burman@gmail.com )

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Fidel Castro attacks Stephen Harper over environmental damage from oilsands April 11, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Cuba, Energy, Environment, Latin America.
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                    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, seen here late last month, has criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over "irrparable" environmental damage from Alberta's oilsands.

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, seen here late last month, has criticized Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper over “irrparable” environmental damage from Alberta’s oilsands.

                    L’Osservatore Romano Vatican/GETTY IMAGES file photo
Roger’s note: a bill before the Canadian parliament last year that would have held Canadian mining companies accountable for crimes committed overseas was defeated, largely thanks to the Liberals.
                            Image

                            By Oakland Ross                                 Feature Writer   Toronto Star, April 9, 2012
Canada may be Cuba’s leading source of tourists, an important economic partner, and one of just two countries in the region never to have broken off diplomatic ties with the island — the other is Mexico — but Fidel Castro says he doesn’t even know Stephen Harper’s name.

In a column that appeared Monday in Granma, official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the island’s former ruler says he believes the Prime Minister goes by the name Stephen Harper — but it’s hard to be sure.

In other words, Stephen Who?

Devoting his 1,100-word column almost entirely to Canada and its alleged shortcomings, Castro, 85, finds much to criticize and lament about this “beautiful and extensive country.”

Are we a colony, a republic, or a kingdom? According to the man with the famous beard, we apparently don’t know ourselves — and neither does he.

Worst of all, however, is the human and environmental damage that Castro says is being inflicted upon many Latin American countries by rapacious Canadian mining companies.

“I became really depressed when I deepened my understanding of the facts about the activities of Canadian transnational companies in Latin America,” writes Castro.

He implies that Canadians, of all people, ought to know better than to exploit the natural and human resources of other countries, considering what the United States is supposedly doing to Canadians.

“I knew about the damage that the yanquis are imposing on the people of Canada,” Castro writes, in reference to the development of the Athabaska oilsands in northern Alberta. “They are obliging the country to seek petroleum, extracting it from large extensions of sand impregnated with this liquid, causing irreparable damage to the environment.”

That experience makes it all the more reprehensible, he suggests, when Canadian mining companies turn around and cause “incredible damage” to “millions of people” in the search for “gold, precious metals, and radioactive material” in Latin America.

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.

 


Follow Jerry Cope on Twitter:

www.twitter.com/jercope

 

 

When Breaking the Law Is Justified June 10, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Democracy, Environment.
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Published on Friday, June 10, 2011 by The Toronto Star

The recent bad news about climate change thundered through the scientific community like those twisters through the U.S.

First, the International Energy Association (IEA) announced global greenhouse gas emissions hit record highs in 2010, threatening to catapult Earth over the 2C rise in temperature that, scientists predict, will lead to cataclysmic changes.

 More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop Removal

We’re already up one degree, attributed to human causes. That’s enough to cause widespread drought, wildfires, flooding, extreme weather — and shrinkage of the polar ice caps.

Says Nobel Prize-winning meteorologist Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Penn State: “Their eventual melting would lead to more than 20 feet (6 metres) of global sea level rise — by any assessment, a catastrophic outcome.”

The other climate bombshell came when the U.S. government’s Earth Systems Research Laboratory announced that this year world greenhouse gas emissions are climbing even higher than last year.

On a per-capita basis, Canada has much to answer for. Population and economic growth, oil and gas exports and our love of light trucks have been among the key drivers of our rising emissions.

Then there’s Alberta oilsands mining, which, according to Environment Canada, spews more greenhouse gases than all the cars on our roads combined.

Earlier this month, the government quietly tabled its annual report on how Canada is doing in meeting its targets under the Kyoto Protocol and other international obligations. It isn’t, not by a long shot, say critics.

“Unfortunately, far too many are in denial and political action is at a standstill,” observes Kevin Trenberth, Distinguished Senior Scientist at the Boulder, Colo.-based National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“Once the problem is so obvious to everyone, it is far, far too late to do anything about it,” says Trenberth.

That sense of urgency is why a growing number of scientists are advocating non-violent civil disobedience to shake up governments, industry and media.

Although there is some political disagreement, the general scientific consensus is that in order to head off mass extinctions, huge migrations of climate refugees and, yes, global warring, carbon dioxide emissions should be cut back to 350 parts per million from the current 390 or so.

“We need to do (civil disobedience) on a mass scale,” says leading American environmentalist and activist Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. “And we need to do it in a way that makes one thing clear to all onlookers: in this fight, we are the conservatives. The radicals are the people who want to alter the composition of the atmosphere.”

The idea is spreading.

“Non-violent civil disobedience is justified when there is a history of long-standing harm or violation of people’s fundamental rights, when legal and policy means have failed to reduce the harms and violations, and when there is little time remaining to address the problems,” wrote University of New England professor John Lemons and Penn State’s Donald Brown in April in the online version of Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics.

“Simply put, people do not have the right to harm others who have not given their consent to be harmed, and this is exactly what the U.S.A. and other countries continue to do,” Lemons told the Star.

Environmental activists have long engaged in civil disobedience. Greenpeace, to name one group, has specialized in it.

In 2009, 20 activists were arrested after they scaled Parliament’s West Block and covered it with banners demanding government action on climate change. On June 2, two members were arrested and removed from an “Arctic survival pod” suspended from an oil rig off the coast of Greenland in which they had camped out for four days in an effort to stop a Scottish oil firm from drilling.

Noted Australian climate advocate Clive Hamilton (Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist The Truth About Climate Change) insists that the moral obligation to act now clearly trumps obedience to the law.

“Those who engage in civil disobedience are usually the most law-abiding citizens — those who have most regard for the social interest and the keenest understanding of the democratic process,” he emails from Britain, where he is a visiting professor at Oxford.

Civil disobedience has a proud tradition. It helped bring about civil rights in the U.S. and an end to the Vietnam War. It delayed mass logging in B.C.’s Clayoquot Sound. African-Americans boycotted and defiantly drank out of “whites-only” water fountains, young men burned their draft cards, and thousands blockaded roads to keep pulp and paper companies out of old-growth forests.

The member-supported Council of Canadians has engaged in all sorts of civil disobedience, including sandbagging towns and provincial legislatures to point out how rising sea levels would affect them.

“It’s not an action to be taken lightly,” says Andrea Harden-Donahue, the Council’s energy and climate justice campaigner. “We do believe that all other democratic means should be pursued first and continue to be pursued, even with a civil disobedience strategy.

“But we feel that it is justified to address climate change, especially given that the Harper government has refused to take action, and because of the urgency.”

Most lawmakers — and even most people — don’t seem to think much of the tactic. Witness police actions against non-violent stunts such as teddy bear catapults at global summits, or citizen complaints of tied-up traffic during demonstrations.

How many Canadians say that last year’s peaceful protesters at the Toronto G20 Summit should have just stayed home if they didn’t want to be tackled, cuffed with plastic cables and tossed into cages without charges.

“People from across the political spectrum love to praise civil disobedience — as long as we’re talking about past social movements,” argues U.S. journalist Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement under Siege. “For instance, on the very same day that members of Congress were breaking ground for a new memorial honouring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his activism, a bill was passed labelling civil disobedience as ‘terrorism’ if it is done by animal rights and environmental activists.”

“Most people are divorced from the history of social change,” notes Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner, Mike Hudema, author of An Action a Day Keeps Global Capitalism Away. “From the eight-hour workday to women’s right to vote to the end of slavery — all of these involved good people willing to break the law.”

One much talked-about recent case of civil disobedience within the scientific community is that of NASA climatologist and Columbia University professor James Hansen, who along with others was charged with obstructing police and impeding traffic in West Virginia while protesting mountaintop coal mining.

Hansen, who calls climate change “the great moral challenge of this century,” has been helping other activists who get into legal trouble, including six Greenpeace members tried in Britain in 2008 for scaling and painting slogans on a coal power station’s smokestack.

With Hansen’s expert testimony, they convinced the court that, despite the expensive havoc they wreaked, even greater damage — climate change — was being prevented.

The acquittals shocked both government and industry. The activists were found not guilty by reason of “lawful excuse” — a judgment that opens the door for more climate justice civil disobedience.

In Canada, we have a similar “defence of necessity.” Conceivably, it could be used here.

More than 3,000 delegates from 183 countries are currently in the midst of the two-week session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn.

The reports from there have not been encouraging.

The world’s 21 developed nations have not fulfilled their promises or financial pledges to the parts of the world that will most suffer from climate change.

“Now, more than ever, it is critical that all efforts are mobilized toward living up to this commitment,” said UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. “We are getting into very risky territory.”

“I don’t think most people realize how little time we have left,” warns Lester Brown, founder of the Washington-based Earth Policy Institute and author of the just-published World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse. “The cliff is not that far away.”

© Copyright Toronto Star 1996-2011

Antonia Zerbisias

Antonia Zerbisias is a columnist for the Toronto Star. In addition to her Star columns, you can read Antonia – and talk back to her – on her blog Broadsides.