All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

Environmental news dominated by the budget

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clouds in the enviro forecast

What a week in the news this was!  Here’s my attempt to wrap my brain around the events.

Of course, the news have been dominated by the budget, dubbed the declared war on the environment (it is unusual for a country to declare war on itself, but there you have it).

There is a nice summary of the environmental impacts of the budget in the Ottawa Citizen, and Elizabeth May wrote a more detailed account of the situation in her blog.  The key aspects include scraping the Environmental Assessment Act and stripping the National Energy Board of any power;  stripping the Fisheries Act of any habitat protection measures; weakening the (already weak) Species at Risk act; and, of course, doing away with the Kyoto Accord.  Pipelines will be exempted from the Navigational Waters Act.  The funding of our environmental monitoring agencies will be curtailed (if a pipeline leaks in the woods, and nobody sees it, is it still pollution?).  And, of course, a new budget item of $8 million is devoted to harassing environmental organizations.

The reaction from the environmental community has been remarkably swift; groups like Forest Ethics responded by launching sub-groups like ForestEthics Advocacy, to clearly distinguish between the educational and activist functions of such groups.  Sierra Club, Greenpeace, WWF, the David Suzuki Foundation and many other have organised a campaign called BlackOutSpeakOut.

Gerald McEachern, in a nice summary of the situation, wrote that

THE GAME is over. It’s now all-out war.  This week, David Suzuki and his foundation came under attack by the ironically named Ethical Oil group, a new American anti-environmental video has been making the rounds online, and the $500,000 Koch brothers contribution to Canada’s right-wing Fraser Institute made the news.

At the political level, the conservatives can expect a rough ride, despite their majority.  Opposition parties, led by the NDP,  have pledged to use every possible procedural means to delay the budget; Elizabeth May, in particular, since her status is equivalent to that of an independent MP, can be expected to filibuster the reading of the bill.  To understand where a single person can have so much single-minded energy, I recommend the highly readable article on May in this month’s Walrus.  Says May:

You can’t deal with an issue like climate change if you basically abandon a healthy democracy and allow a corporatist culture to make the decisions. So you need engaged citizens, and you need Occupy.  You need people who have never seen themselves as political to become political. We need maybe 15 to 20 percent of Canadians to become really engaged and demand better. And then we’ll get it.

There is also fear that Canada will lose its scientific expertise, charitable organisations will lose their effectiveness, and even that such measures are stoking the fires of separation in Quebec.

Of course, the budget is also attacking several other key Canadian institutions such as the CBC and the national Archives.  One article making the rounds on the web at a viral pace (from one battlefield to another) sums up the mood well: in it, Capt. (retired) Trevor Greene, a veteran of the Afghan war, reflects that

Every generation updates and renews the values that make us who we are. I once found it hard to truly understand what those in my grandfather’s generation meant when they spoke of making the ultimate sacrifice in wartime to allow their loved ones back home to live in a democracy…[But, upon my return from Afghanistan] when I read about ministers of the Crown attacking and smearing heroes like David Suzuki, … I wonder what’s happened to Canada. I fear for the kind of world my daughter and son stand to inherit should we cave in to this oil-driven agenda. Not a good one, I am certain.

On the international scene, the fact that Canada is now an environmental pariah, an obstructionist bully, is no longer news.  This situation is nicely stated in this April article in the British New Scientist:

Under Harper, the government has moved from apathy to outright hostility. At the 2007 Bali climate conference, Canada and Russia stood alone in opposing science-based emissions targets. Canada’s foot-dragging at the 2009 Copenhagen conference earned it a “Fossil of the Year” award from environmental groups. As host nation of the G8 and G20 summits in 2010, Canada resisted making emissions a priority issue.

The government is also considering backtracking on other environmental matters. Last week, a former fisheries official leaked documents suggesting that the government wants to reword its Fisheries Act so that it no longer prohibits activity that harms fish habitat. The change would make it easier to gain approval for industrial developments such as pipelines…Meanwhile, the government has been cutting back sharply on its funding of environmental science.

Canada’s anti-science policies reach beyond the environment. Last year, the government did away with its compulsory long-form census. By making this census voluntary instead of mandatory, the government effectively destroyed its value as an unbiased baseline of information on Canadian society and the economy.

Coincidentally, the very next issue of the New Scientist featured an article about orcas appearing in Hudson Bay.  While this isn’t the first time, the number of sightings is unprecedented and appears to track the warming of the area very closely.  (There were no sightings before 1900, and only a handful until 1960; there was a small gradual increase afterwards, but the 40 sightings in the last five years is unprecedented.)

“We’re wondering what’s going on; it’s exciting to see them, but why are they here and what are they eating?” says Noah Nakookak, an Inuit hunter from Coral Harbour…[DFO biologist Steve] Ferguson is convinced that climate change explains the whales’ presence in the bay.  Orcas, with their tall dorsal fins, generally avoid ice, which can trap or injure them as they swim beneath it.  But recent declines in the extent of summer sea ice in Hudson Strait are opening up the route to Hudson Bay.

The fear, naturally, is that the orcas will be “eating the Inuit’s lunch” – and that cuts to DFO and other agencies will make it difficult to understand what is going on.

But it’s not all bleak; Iceland will suspend its fin whale hunt indefinitely, and Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, has announced a $100 billion solar energy development.  Other governments are proactive.  We’ll get there.

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