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Tories in review: Environment

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Examining Stephen Harper and the Conservative Party’s dismal environmental track record, full of broken promises and missed opportunities for a greener Canada

WHEN IT COMES TO THE ENVIRONMENT, Stephen Harper doesn’t have a hidden agenda—he’s always been upfront about his healthy-industry-over-healthy-Earth policies. In 2006, for instance, in his first speech outside Canada after he was elected as prime minister, he called Canada an “emerging energy superpower,” suggesting his intention to expand oil sands production. “And that has been his environment policy,” says Keith Stewart, PhD, who teaches energy policy at the University of Toronto and campaigns with Greenpeace Canada.

Since that first speech, Canada’s international environmental reputation has shifted quickly under the Harper Conservatives. We were once considered an influential environmental leader, but now are what famed environmentalist Bill McKibben calls, “an obstacle to international climate concerns.” That’s thanks to several major changes, the breadth of which we’ll review here.

INTERNATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT
After signing the Kyoto Protocol on carbon pollution in 1997, Canada withdrew 14 years later in late 2011. It’s the only country to have done so. Then in 2013, the government pulled out of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification—and again has done so solo. Established in 1994, the convention is a key legally-binding international agreement addressing environment, development, and sustainability. Listen: you can hear Canada’s diplomatic credibility crumbling.

DEMOLISHING LAWS
In 1992, the Government of Canada enacted the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, created to evaluate and mitigate negative environmental effects possibly caused by industrial projects. In 2012 the entire act was repealed and replaced with “CEAA 2012.” The new version applies to a much smaller scope of projects, expands ministerial discretion, and narrows the scope of assessments. The Canadian Environmental Law Association called this “an unjustified and ill-conceived rollback of federal environmental law.”

After the change, nearly 3,000 environmental project assessments were cancelled. As a result, environmentally- harmful projects will face less red tape in gaining approval. “It’s streamlining the review process for our pipelines,” quips Peter Louwe, communications officer for Greenpeace Vancouver.

RUINING PROTECTIONS
Besides weakening The Fisheries Act to the point where it doesn’t protect most fish, the Cons have also rewritten The Navigable Waters Protection Act so that it no longer protects most lakes and rivers. “There is no environmental protection for our waters unless there’s a commercial aspect to it,” says Louwe. Since Canada contains 20 percent of the world’s fresh water as well as the world’s longest coastline, changes to these acts are of worldwide concern.

SILENCING SCIENCE
After Environment Canada senior research scientist David Tarasick published on one of the biggest ozone holes ever found over the Arctic in 2011, he was forbidden to speak with media for nearly three weeks. Once given permission, his calls were supervised by Environment Canada officials. In speaking of the incident, he wrote to a reporter, “My apologies for the strange behaviour of EC [Environment Canada],” adding if it were up to him, he’d grant the interview.

All federal scientists now face regulations from Ottawa deciding if they can talk, how, and when. Approved interviews are taped, and often approval is not forthcoming until after deadlines have passed. When this happens, journalists receive government-approved written answers. Between 2008-2014, the federal government cut the jobs of more than 2,000 scientists. In 2014, it announced plans to close seven of its 11 Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries.

HIT ’EM WHERE IT HURTS
Environment Canada, the government department charged with protecting the environment, is quickly having its capacity drained. Between 2010- 2012, the federal government cut 20 percent of its budget (made official right after the Cons became a majority), and from 2014– 2017 another 28 percent will be cut. This translates to hundreds of job losses and lost programs.

Environment Canada’s ozone-monitoring program, host to the world’s archive of ozone data and relied upon by scientists worldwide, had several monitoring stations closed due to lack of funding, and the lone person running the archives was laid off.

The list goes on: the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which has provided research on sustainable development since 1988, and was established by a previous Conservative government, is no more. Also included in the cuts: Monitoring for heavy metals and toxic contaminants, the Climate Action Network, Sierra Club of B.C., The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, and many other organizations.

AUDITS
Meanwhile the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is auditing charities. In 2012 the government tightened rules and created a special budget so the CRA could check on charities’ political activities. EthicalOil.org, founded by Harper’s aide Alykhan Velshi, made a series of complaints to the CRA about environmental groups. The David Suzuki Foundation, Tides Canada, Equiterre, and Environmental Defence, three of those EthicalOil.org targeted in its complaints, were audited—though the government denies any link with CRA’s activities.

THE KICKER
“I think C-51 should just be repealed because of the way it targets First Nations and environmentalists,” says U of T’s Stewart. This piece of legislation, adopted in June, adds power to security agencies collecting information on anything that “undermines the security of Canada,” including interfering with economic stability or “critical infrastructure.” It also gives the Canadian Security Intelligence Service power to react to these perceived threats. Many environmentalists and activists believe this means them. An RCMP document obtained by Greenpeace labels the “anti-petroleum movement” as a growing and violent threat.“There’s not much more damage that one person would be able to do to the environment of a country,” says Vancouver’s Louwe, referring to Harper.

And yet, the Harper government hasn’t managed to build any pipelines. In the face of such blatant injustice, Canadian people have risen up, building a stronger environmental movement that is not only more resolved, but broader, including people from a wider range of backgrounds and interests than before. And Stewart points out that although this government has done a lot for industry, the more obvious it becomes to the public that its government is acting as a cheerleader for big oil, the less social licence industry has in people’s minds. And this means that whatever the legacy of the Harper government leaves us, it also leaves a more politicized, involved, and activated country of people who will do what it takes to protect what matters.

 

First published in Sept/Oct 2015 issues of This Magazine

https://this.org/2015/09/21/tories-in-review-environment/

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Written by larkinschmiedl

March 13, 2016 at 7:28 pm

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Local eating the focus of eatkamloops.org

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Eatkamloops.org is a website created by Kamloops citizen Caroline Cooper, who has a passion for local food, so much so she has put her own time into creating extensive lists of farms, ranches, seed savers and breeders in the Kamloops area who are keeping the local food economy alive.

Cooper blogs on sustainable living issues as well, ranging from creating your own solar power to choosing sustainable fish, and urban hens to smart meters.

You can find her website at eatkamloops.org.

In a joint effort to raise awareness about local eating in Kamloops, she and I have joined forces and my sustainable food in Kamloops map now includes the farms and ranches from her website, showing in visual form where they can be found.

Check it out.

An unknown source of local food on campus?

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Local food, sustainability and fair trade have come to mainstream consciousness over the past few years, and as a result some businesses are shifting their policies.  Some others are trying to appear to be doing so.

I’ve been noticing these signs in the Terrace cafeteria at TRU over the past few weeks.

The posters are a part of Aramark’s “Green Thread” campaign, described by the company as part of its sustainable food initiative.

Aramark provides the food on a great number of different university campuses across North America, as well as in colleges, high schools, remote camps, businesses and more.

I wonder what action Aramark, the food company that runs almost all the food on campus at TRU, has taken on its stated commitments toward sustainability and local, organic and fair trade food?

In 2010 Aramark published a press release announcing it had received an award as one of Canada’s greenest employers.

It seems there is lots to learn, and I’d like to know more.

I wonder what percentage of Aramark's food is sourced within Canada? Photo by Larkin Schmiedl.

"Whenever possible" depends partly on availability, and partly on the level of a company's priority toward sourcing local food. Photo by Larkin Schmiedl.

How much local food is served in this cafeteria, and what is meant by 'sustainable'? Photo by Larkin Schmiedl.

Photo by Larkin Schmiedl.

The Terrace, one of the main cafeterias on TRU's campus. Photo by Larkin Schmiedl.

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 12, 2012 at 3:48 pm

The skeleton and the meat of local sustainability

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The direction of my story is coming together in its final form now, and I’m really excited about it.

The final project, due in nine days, is going to be looking at local sustainable food sources in Kamloops.  I’m going to be defining what sustainable means (or could mean), and looking at what policy is in place in the city around the issue and how it’s being implemented and used. I’m also going to be speaking to different ‘consumers’–likely one who places high value on eating local food and does so as much as possible, and then one other ‘average’ consumer.

With all of this, I hope to paint a picture of the sustainable food situation in Kamloops–what’s happening now, what the willpower for change may or may not be, and what possible future directions or avenues might be if the goal were sustainability.

Food production is, after all, the biggest use we make of our environment.  The way we produce food for ourselves is key to environmental health.

Over the next week I’ll be speaking with as many grocery stores and restaurants as I can to see what they have, and speaking with city councillors and analyzing food policy in the city.  I’ll also be seeking an acceptable definition of the concept of ‘sustainability’ when it comes to food, and looking at the Canada food pyramid where it all, in some form, is based, at least in theory.

Stay tuned for more, and please send on any suggestions, comments, questions or feedback.

Thanks for reading.

Written by larkinschmiedl

March 12, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Food brainstorms

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My investigation begins.  It began years ago, really, when I first became acutely interested in food politics.

I am in process of surveying local food issues, and will be attending the Kamloops Food Policy Council meeting this Wednesday.

I spoke with Anne Grube yesterday, who is a local organic farmer (Golden Ears farm) and mother of city councillor Donovan Cavers.  (Cavers also runs a local catering business that strives to provide local organic ingredients, Conscientious Catering.)

I’ve been brainstorming ideas for stories, thinking about what can be put in concrete terms that really delves to the heart of issues with food and the food movement, and speaks to what a wide audience is concerned about.  The best idea I have so far is to look at the pricing of organic foods vs. conventional foods, to look at the reasons and provide information that people can base their purchasing decisions on, or at least give some food for thought and further research.

I have an obvious bias in support of organics and local and sustainable foods, so I will just put that front and centre right here.  However I do not think this prevents me from delving in and reporting on the issue.  I hope that by being transparent about my beliefs and background I will be able to put forth some of the concrete things I have learned about the food system in my time, alongside new research, and presented in balance with other perspectives.  My aim is for us all to learn, and find our way collectively toward a food system we can believe in, and that is viable to create.

Any ideas, readers?  Anything you’ve always wondered about food or the food system?  Any things you think need to be heard about more in the media?  Write and let me know.  I want to know what folks are wondering and concerned about.

The ideas I’m playing with right now include:

  • Food recommendations and the official national food pyramid–how it came to be, and what factors influenced its development?  What do dietary experts have to say about it?
  • Food irradiation treatment–what exactly is it, and how does it work?
  • The Kamloops public garden is expanding to the North Shore in the spring, and this is of interest locally.
  • Kamloops grocery store waste–what is given away and where to, and what goes into the dumpsters?  (I used to procure a lot of my food from dumpster diving, but not in Kamloops, so I have first-hand experience of the vast amounts of food that are thrown away, and am curious about what is happening here in Kamloops.)  What regulations govern food donation, and what laws apply to dumpster divers?  How does this relate to poverty in town?
  • How much food do we actually have in Kamloops that is locally produced?
  • I had the idea to create an interactive online food miles calculator that would tell you where your food came from if you typed in the type of food, its brand and where you got it.  This does not exist on the internet that I know of, and it would be a complicated, extensive and ever-changing and expanding project.  I think it’s pretty far outside the scope of what I could accomplish in this course.  I am very excited about the idea of a project like this though.  This sort of database could link to a vast amount of information about environmental impact, farm conditions, predicted nutritional value, profiles of stores and what they provide, and more.  Very exciting.  The sorts of food miles calculators that exist online now are approximate and do not provide detailed information.  Here is one good one if you just want to calculate how far a particular item has travelled to get to you.  All you need to know is what country your food item came from.

I’ll continue brainstorming, blogging and reporting as the days and weeks go on, so stay tuned.

On the beat: Food

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We all eat.  Food is an issue that concerns each and every last one of us.

We care about how much it costs.

We care about how food is produced and what conditions on farms are like, as distant from us and as obscured as these may be.

We care about how food gets to us and what the environmental impact of this is.

We care about how food is processed and what its resulting nutritional value is.

We care about having safe food.

And we care about having some sort of connection to our food, whether that comes in the form of comfort foods, foods we are familiar with, culturally appropriate foods, or having a first-hand connection to our food by, say, growing a garden or signing up for a local CSA (community-supported agriculture).

In upcoming entries I’m going to be talking about food from a local Kamloops, provincial B.C., national and international perspective as I work on a feature story for my journalism course in politics.

I’ve been involved in the organic and sustainable food movement for close to 10 years, and food represents a web of issues that is dear to my heart.  I hope that my passion and my journalism will both bring revealing information on the issue for you to discover and contemplate.

Written by larkinschmiedl

January 22, 2012 at 2:45 am

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