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Some brief thoughts on the Occupy movement, on Canada’s economy and on its heritage

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I continue to be an ecologist concerned at the perfect storm our species is unleashing on our environment.  I have difficulty seeing good solutions for the world in 2050, let alone 2100, although I know they are still out there, if only we would show some global political will.  Recently, I have been reading up on economists’ views of the future, and while I am gratified to see that many now see the impossibility of perpetual economic growth, their solutions for an economy which remains within environmental limits are still bare sketches.  They do not seem to have found that place which has sustainable economies on a living planet.  Meanwhile in Canada we continue to ramp up emissions with nary a care.

So… three questions for the Occupy Movement to ponder.  They are set to reactivate on 17th September, and I would love the Occupy groups within Canada to consider the following questions;

1.  Is there an economically defensible way to use Canada’s mineral wealth that will mine in an environmentally sustainable manner, and will ensure that a substantial proportion of the products mined are converted to Canadian wealth?

2. If we deal with a presumed lack of Canadian capital to fund mining exploits in Canada, is it appropriate to invite in foreign capital to help, giving the owners of that capital some share of the profits, or should we live within our means?

3.  If we decide to mine minerals by inviting foreign capital to assist us, does it make any difference if that foreign capital is owned by a multinational corporation, or by a foreign country?

People not in the Occupy movement can explore these questions as well.

Looking at today’s Globe and Mail for inspiration I once again found bad news and good new for the environment.  Let’s start with the good.  Environment Minister Peter Kent announced in Ottawa the start of a process to overhaul the Species at Risk Act.  In particular, he wants the recovery plans provided for in the legislation to consider whole ecosystems, rather than just species in isolation.  “There are improvements to be made,” Mr. Kent said. “Sooner rather than later we need to address changes to the Species at Risk Act to be more effective.”  I agree with him!  I also was delighted to see that the changes are not going to be buried in the next omnibus budget bill.  Of course, the devil will be in the details, and the article did use words like ‘water down’, ‘deregulate’, ‘devolve’, and ‘lack of consultation’.  Mr. Kent belongs to a government that uses ‘efficiency’ as the code-word for ‘weakened environmental protections’.  I await some more news on this, but the announcement is a good start.

People who have read ‘Our Dying Planet’ or earlier posts on this blog will know my opinion of the Harper government’s ‘fossil fuels as the only economic engine’ approach to bringing Canada lasting prosperity.  I think it keeps us stuck in the raw materials business when our population is well-educated and capable of building a knowledge economy.  When it is done in a way that massively inflates our emissions of greenhouse gases, and in the absence of any real national plan to curb those emissions it verges on immoral, especially given that we do not need more energy – virtually all the growth is destined to be sold overseas.  An article in Friday’s Globe discussed the considerations that need to be included as the government judges whether the takeover of Nexen Inc by Chinese state-owned CNOOC should go ahead.  The ‘net benefits test’ requires “the government to consider whether the state-owned enterprise adheres to Canadian standards of good corporate governance and whether the acquired entity will be able to continue operating on a commercial basis”.  The test also mentions “commitments to transparency, the presence of independent Canadian directors on the board, and a Canadian stock-exchange listing for either the acquirer or the acquired entity as undertakings that may be required of the foreign investor. Presumably, concerns related to the degree of Chinese Communist Party control over CNOOC, or to allegations that firms connected with CNOOC might have engaged in insider trading ahead of the Nexen announcement, can be assessed under these headings”.  I’m not sure these requirements go far enough, but they are a start.  Let’s see what happens when the government announces its decision.

In Saturday’s Globe, the Premiers of British Columbia and of Alberta respectively voiced their strong enthusiasm for selling shale gas and tar sands oil to China.  Alison Redford (Alberta) said in Beijing, “We have always believed foreign investment assisted us with growing our economy so we are encouraging that. We want to make sure it is done for the benefit of Alberta.”  Christy Clark (BC) stressed the urgency of signing deals, saying, “These companies have to lock up their long-term contracts with their Asian customers now. If they are thrown off by five years, it will be too late,” Ms. Clark said in a telephone interview from near the Great Wall just before returning to Canada this week.  Too late for what?  Do we really believe oil and gas are going to lose their value?  Still, it’s obvious where these two Premiers stand.  BC tree huggers, be warned.

And my last article although it comes from a week ago – now it appears that China is interested in buying a stake in the Northern Gateway Pipeline (the one the Harper government has not yet approved).  Is there any concern about a foreign government having control over a major pipeline?  I’ve got a better idea.  Why don’t we excavate around the tar sands, lift them on air lift bags, dig a canal up through Nunavut, and float the whole sorry mess to China?  That way we would at least be honest about how we are squandering our Canadian heritage, and the effort to export a big chunk of Alberta would probably produce more jobs than mining the tar sands ever will.

3 thoughts on “Some brief thoughts on the Occupy movement, on Canada’s economy and on its heritage”

  1. Bob Dylan’s ‘Tempest’ is worth a listen, particularly the title track

    you (and Elizabeth May too, you are in good company) insist on politely and graciously giving Peter Mansbridge, or Kent or whatever t.f. his name is, the benefit of the doubt. Peter, there IS no doubt! follow the footprints from the Milner station in Cache Creek through the Alberta Utilities Commission, through Maxim Power Corp., Grande Cache Coal – Peter Kent knows who his friends are and he serves them well and the environment is not on the list

    in 1964 Mario Savio said, “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!” His subsequent history is problematic, and anyway he was talking about some concept of freedom at the time which I didn’t and still don’t quite understand, but the words are right

    … and I think you know it 🙂

    it would be sure be fine to see you in Victoria on October 22: a roomette from Toronto is pricey but they say meals are included

    be well, David.

    1. David, I have to recognize when the Minister of Environment makes statements I agree with. I’d really like to recognize actions I agree with, but recently there have not been many of them. You may be right; I may be deluded, but I must not rush to judgement. You, on the other hand are more free. I will not be able to be in Victoria, but I will support that protest from afar. I fear, however, that the decisions about the Northern Gateway pipeline have all been made already, and, as in Tempest,(if I can call our way of life ‘the ship’)
      The ship was going under
      The universe had opened wide
      The roll was called up yonder
      The angels turned aside

      But if people do not speak, we cannot blame government or industry for not listening.

  2. ah! you have listened to ‘Tempest’ already and by your quote I see that our appreciations are not so different

    for the record I do not think you are deluded at all, what I think is that lifelong bourgeois habits are hard to break, I have a cupboard full of ’em myself

    I’ll certainly admit that the chances of stopping Northern Gateway are slim, even vanishingly so – but the darker it gets the brighter appears whatever faint glimmering there is, and like you say, we must speak out, do our very best whatever it may be

    Revelations 3: Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain.

    be well, David.

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