Around the world scientists are not sleeping well. They toss and turn knowing humanity is destroying the Earth’s ability to support mankind. The science is crystal clear and all of us 'ought to shaking in our boots' Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme told me last year.
But hardly any of us are shaking in our boots. Why is that?
For a while now, the UK government has been dragging its feet behind other European countries trying to deter future imports of Canadian tar sands oil into the EU. The UK, home to British Petroleum (BP), has an oil industry with vested interests in the Albertan tar sands, and opened a new consulate in Calgary in 2011. Recent papers leaked to the Guardian by Greenpeace may be the clearest sign yet that the UK will support Canada in encouraging tar sands oil imports to Europe.
John Vidal writes in the Guardian, that "in EU negotiations on laws intended to encourage the use of low-carbon transport fuels, the UK has rejected language that would class tar sands oil as more polluting than conventional crude or other fuels."
As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA.)
Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.
Recent forecasts from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and British Petroleum (BP) have cast new doubts on the long-term economic viability of exploiting the Albertan tar sands.
In a November report, the IEA predicted that demand for tar sands production in 2035 will be 3.3 million barrels a day, lower than the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ (CAPP) more optimistic estimate of 5 million barrels a day. BP’s Energy Outlook 2030, published in January, also forecasts that US oil imports will fall 70 percent by 2030 from 11 million barrels a day in 2011.
Citing the BP and IEA forecasts, author and former Oilweek editor Earle Gray writes in the Toronto Star, that “a host of factors dims the prospects for the oilsands.” Gray lists “slower growth in world oil demand, increasing energy efficiency, alternative fuels and possible caps on global warming emissions of carbon dioxide” as reasons the Harper government should be weaning the Canadian economy off the tar sands.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper wasn't kidding when he said Canada would be unrecognizable when he was done with it.
Since its beginnings in 2006, the Harper administration has not only systematically transformed the legal framework of the country to benefit industrial interests, but has also undermined Canada's public reputation for excellence and openness in science around the world. Its actions have made international headlines.
The prestigious scientific journal, Nature, has criticized the government for its media communications protocol, describing it as a "cumbersome approval process that stalls or prevents meaningful contact with Canada's publicly funded scientists."
The international community has also taken notice of the country's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, designed to fight global warming at the international level, as well as Canada's obstructionist role in international climate talks in Rio, Cancun, and most recently Durban.
When DeSmog asked Weaver what he thought of the steady erosion of Canada's environmental standing, he replied: "I would not use the word erosion...I would use the word elimination. Erosion implies slow and steady. This is fast. We're cutting down institutions that have been around for decades. And we're eliminating them overnight."
Here is a partial list of recent funding cuts to Canadian scientific institutions and research programs:
For no more is Canada a place to irreverently “commit sociology,” or disrespectfully engage in “academic pondering” over simple problems like terrorism. We’ve not the time for petty scientific inquiry regarding such trivial matters as environmental degradation or global warming. And it’s best to just ignore frivolous problems like increased inequality, abhorrent aboriginal conditions, and unflinching gender gaps.
After all, “the root cause of terrorism is terrorists.” That’s it, case closed. Just as the root cause of pollution is the environment. Unemployment - that’s employees. Drug abuse, the abusive drugs, and gun violence, well it’s all those violent guns we’ve got.
So keep calm, we’ll win the wars on drugs and terror if we continue trading rights and freedoms for safety and security. As for the rest of our hindrances -- fear not, the free market will fix everything. In the mean time, we’ll continue to chip away at those cumbersome social safety nets and outsource any means of production, if you promise to continue spending money you don’t have on things you don’t really need.
Stephen Harper is not interested in root causes or academic debates. When Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau suggested in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that acts of terrorism are best seen in the context of their social causes, Harper swiftly rejected the idea.
At a press conference in Ottawa, Harper responded to Trudeau by declaring that now is not the time to “commit sociology.” As a counter-proposal, Harper said that terrorists are simply “people who have agendas of violence that are deep and abiding threats to all the values that our society stands for.”
It was a familiar piece of rhetoric straight out of the George W. Bush playbook. Terrorists are enemies of freedom who only understand the language of violence. Politicians need to be strong leaders who can cut through the complexity of the modern world with decisive action. Politics is merely the act of choosing sides.
But Harper’s strange linguistic turn of describing sociology as something that one “commits” (what else collocates with that verb?) wasn’t just the return of stale War on Terror posturing. It points beyond anti-terrorism legislation and partisan spats to the deeper roots of Conservative strategy.
There are few Canadians who can claim to have their finger on the pulse of the country's politics like public opinion researcher Allan Gregg. Founder of Decima Research and The Strategic Council, Gregg is keenly aware of how Canadians feel about contemporary political life and how our political reality in a very real way shapes our social existence.
And what Gregg is concerned about expressing these days is his unshakeable belief that something has gone terribly awry in Canada, and that Canadians don't seem to care.
Gregg says he's spent his life as a researcher, "dedicated to understanding the relationship between cause and effect." From that, he says, "I've come to a fairly singular belief: namely, that more than anything else, societal progress is advanced when enlightened public policy marshals our collective public resources towards a larger public good."
"Evidence, facts and reasons…form the sine qua non of not just good public policy but good government," he says. "And lately I have to tell you there have been some troubling trends that threaten that fundamental belief. It seems as though our government's use of evidence and facts as the basis of policy has been declining and in their place dogma, whim, and political expediency are on the rise."
Fast-forward a decade, and we've become a true north suppressed and disparate -- where unregistered civic demonstrations are inhibited and repressed, rebellious Internet activities are scrutinised and supervised, government scientists are hushed and muzzled, and public information is stalled and mired by bureaucratic firewalls.
In testifying before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance to deal with charity provisions in the 2012 Federal Budget, Jamie Ellerton, the Executive Director of Ethical Oil, offered a succinct definition of charity. “If you need to debate whether or not something is charitable,” he told the House, “it is not.”
Ellertonʼs definition of charity, takes 400 years worth of legal debate on the definition of charity, and wraps it up so tightly, makes it so simple, that one would wonder why it ever need be debated at all. If his were the working definition, charitable work would be limited to such tasks as feeding the hungry and planting trees.
Charities would have no say in making change to end hunger or protecting trees that are already standing. They would be mute players, picking up the pieces when government fails to protect the public interest. It is all too clear that the simple definition might be preferred by a government intent on ending conversations - or at least controlling them.